Thomas Webster, a 20-year-old New York veteran, was the first man accused of rioting in the Capitol to be tried on charges of assault and the first to present a self-defense argument to jurors. Webster, who wore a face mask in court, did not show an obvious reaction to the verdict that found him guilty of all six charges against him, one of which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Webster, 56, testified that he was trying to protect himself from a “rogue cop” who punched him in the face. He also accused Metropolitan Police Officer Noah Rathbun of inciting the controversy.
Rathbun testified that he did not punch or choose to fight Webster as a violent mob attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, preventing Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election against then-President D.
Webster’s jury trial was the fourth in a Capitol riot case. The first three defendants who were tried by jurors were convicted on all charges in their respective indictments. A judge decided two other cases without a jury, acquitted one of the defendants and partially acquitted the other.
A major court has convicted Webster of six counts, including assaulting Rathbun with a dangerous weapon, a metal flagpole. Webster was not charged with entering the Capitol on January 6. He is scheduled to be sentenced on September 2.
Prosecutors requested that Webster be remanded in custody pending sentencing, but the judge agreed to release him pending a hearing. It will be monitored with an ankle bracelet. The judge said it was a “close call” on whether he would be jailed immediately, but noted that he had complied with the current conditions of release and had no previous convictions.
Webster drove alone to Washington, DC, from his home near Goshen, New York, on the eve of the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6. He was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a U.S. Marine Corps flag on a metal pole as he approached the Capitol after hearing Trump address thousands of his supporters.
Webster said he had gone to the Capitol to “report” to lawmakers to “review” the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Rathbun’s body camera captured Webster shouting profanity and swearing before coming into contact with him. Webster said he was participating in his first political protest as a citizen and was asserting his rights to freedom of speech when he shouted at officers behind a series of bicycle racks.
The body camera video shows Webster hitting one of the bike racks in Rathbun hard before the officer reached out with an open left hand and hit the right side of Webster’s face. Webster said he felt like he was being hit by a freight train.
“It was a hard blow and all I wanted to do was defend myself,” Webster said.
Webster also said he believed Rathbun was coming after him and recalled thinking, “He’s a scammer.”
Rathbun said he was trying to remove Webster from a security perimeter he and other officers were trying to maintain.
After Rathbun hit his face, Webster waved a metal flagpole at the officer with a cutting motion down, hitting a bicycle rack. Rathbun snatched the broken pole from Webster, who attacked the policeman, threw him to the ground and snatched his gas mask.
Rathbun testified that he began to choke as the chin strap on his gas mask pressed against his neck.
“This is not a place you want to be,” Rathbun said.
Webster said he snatched Rathbun from the gas mask because he wanted the officer to see his hands.
During the trial, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Brian Kelly urged jurors to reject Webster’s self-defense argument.
“Do not let the accused get away with what he did that day,” Kelly said.
Defense attorney James Monroe said Webster had the right to defend himself against a “bad cop” who used excessive force.
“Get behind the truth. And I’m talking about the whole truth,” Monroe told jurors.
Rathbun reported a hand injury from a separate meeting with a troublemaker inside the Capitol. He did not report any injuries caused by Webster, but jurors saw photos of bruised legs that Rathbun attributed to his confrontation with the retired officer.
A Metropolitan Police investigator who investigated said Rathbun did not recall meeting Webster several days after the uprising. Rathbun said watching video of the body camera refreshed his memory.
Webster faced charges of assaulting, resisting or obstructing an officer using a dangerous weapon. urban disorder; entering and staying in prohibited areas with a dangerous weapon; naughty and harassing behavior in confined spaces with a dangerous weapon; engaging in physical violence in confined spaces with a dangerous weapon; and engaging in an act of physical violence in the Capitol.
Webster retired from the NYPD in 2011 after 20 years of service, which included a term in the private security data of then-mayor Michael Bloomberg. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1985 to 1989 before joining the NYPD in 1991.
More than 780 people have been charged with federal crimes related to riots. The Justice Department says more than 245 of them have been charged with assaulting or obstructing law enforcement. More than 100 police officers were injured.
Two other defendants testified at their trial. Dustin Byron Thompson, an Ohio man convicted by a jury of blocking Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory, said he was following in the footsteps of then-President Donald Trump. A judge who heard the testimony without a jury acquitted Matthew Martin, a New Mexico man who said most of the officers allowed him and others to enter the Capitol through the Rotunda gates.
Two rioters did not testify before jurors convicted them of all charges, including interfering with officers. One of them, Thomas Robertson, was an off-duty police officer from Rocky Mount, Virginia. The other, Texas resident Guy Wesley Refit, was also convicted of invading the Capitol with a shotgun.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, Trump’s candidate who acquitted Martin of all charges, also presided over a trial for New Mexico’s elected official, Couy Griffin. McFadden convicted Griffin of illegally entering the confined spaces of the Capitol, but acquitted him of disorderly conduct.
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