WASHINGTON (CN) — Pointing his finger at one of the officers trying to quell the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, a former member of the New York City mayor's security detail who joined the effort to overthrow America's government testified Thursday that the officer punched him so hard it was "like getting hit by a freight train."
“I felt like I got a concussion and I was seeing stars,” Thomas Webster, a former NYPD officer, told a federal jury in Washington. His testimony comes the day after Metropolitan Police Department officer Noah Rathbun testified that he pushed — not punched — Webster to keep him from breaching the police line outside the Capitol building, and that Webster hit him with a metal flagpole, tackled him and tried to rip his face mask off.
Webster tells it differently, saying he called Rathbun a “fucking piece of shit” and yelled, “you fucking commie motherfuckers,” and that Rathbun then waved his hand in the air as an invitation to fight.
Webster says Rathbun appeared to take notice of the red U.S. Marines Corps flag he was carrying, which Webster took as a sign that Rathbun might “have something against Marines.” He told the jury that Rathbun could have “deescalated everything” if he had conveyed that he was also a military veteran.
“I would’ve given him a hug,” said Webster, who spent four years in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1980s and worked for NYPD from 1999 to 2011, even serving as a member of longtime Mayor Mike Bloomberg's security detail.
Describing a “role-reversal,” Webster said at the time it felt like he “was a cop and [Rathbun] was a protester.” He also found it “very, very unusual” that Rathbun was extending his arm over the police line to push him back. So Webster started rattling the bicycle barrier between them “out of frustration,” and that’s when Rathbun gave him “one of the hardest hits” he’s ever experienced.
Webster said Rathbun then made a move to separate the bicycle racks between them and he was “going super old-school rogue” and acting in a manner unlike the other officers around him.
He claims he let Rathbun take the pole voluntarily and that he did not tackle the officer to the ground, rather, “he kind of like fell down.” Also denying that he tried to rip off Rathbun’s face mask, Webster said he recalled his police training and was trying to show Rathbun his hands to let him know that he was not going to hurt him.
And at one point, Webster admitted that he grabbed Rathbun’s face-mask filter and “just pushed it up,” but said that he “felt like it wouldn’t hurt him” — which was his goal.
“I wanted to do something to protect myself without hurting him,” Webster said, adding that when it was over, it was “like a schoolyard thing … he got up, I got up — that was it.”
On cross-examination, prosecutors painted a different picture of what happened that day.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Nielsen brought up Webster’s “commie” comments and asked if he was being “aggressive” when he made them.
“I don’t think I was,” he said. “I was voicing my First Amendment right.”
After playing the video with the comments for the jury, the prosecutor remarked that they will have to “agree to disagree” on that point.
Asked if he was using the flagpole “as a club,” or a dangerous weapon, Webster said no and insisted that he was using it to discourage Rathbun from punching him again.
The prosecutor told jurors he was “smashing” it against the bicycle rack and that they would again have to “agree to disagree.”
Nielsen also questioned Webster about his earlier testimony on Thursday that the reason he went to the front of the crowd outside the Capitol was because he had seen people with injuries and wanted to find out what was going on.
She asked why he made no mention of the injury inquiry during an interview with the FBI about five weeks after Jan. 6, noting that he had told agents it was his first protest so he wanted to get to the front.
Webster said he did not recall what he told them.
“To sit in an FBI office for the first time is pretty intimidating,” he said.
“For an NYPD officer of 20 years?” she quipped.
Prosecutors are expected to finish cross-examining Webster on Friday. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, is presiding over the case.
Webster, 56, of Goshen, New York, was arrested on Feb. 22, 2021, and was released to home detention in June. He is the fourth person charged in connection with the Capitol riot to take his case before a jury.
He has pleaded not guilty to: assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon; civil disorder; entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon; engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon; disorderly conduct within the Capitol grounds or buildings and an act of physical violence within the Capitol grounds or buildings.
As of April 6, nearly 800 people have been charged in connection with the Capitol riot. Out of more than 250 charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees, at least 85 defendants have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.
Approximately 140 police officers were assaulted during the Capitol riot, including about 80 from the U.S. Capitol Police force and about 60 from the Metropolitan Police Department.
The FBI is still looking for more than 250 people who assaulted police officers during the insurrection.
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