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Defense insists cop instigated incident with Capitol rioter

Thomas Webster is the fourth person charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot to take his case before a jury.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The defense team for a former officer with the New York City Police Department charged with assault tried to poke holes Wednesday in the testimony of the officer he hit with a metal pole during the Capitol riot.

Prosecutors claim former NYPD officer Thomas Webster assaulted Noah Rathbun, a Metropolitan Police Department officer who testified that Webster repeatedly struck him with a metal pole before he tackled him to the ground and tried to rip off his face shield. 

“I could barely breathe,” Rathbun told a federal jury in a courthouse in Washington. But Webster’s attorney, James Monroe, repeatedly insisted during cross-examination on Wednesday that the officer on the witness stand incited the incident. 

Monroe showed a video from Jan. 6, 2021, of a police line trying to keep hundreds from breaching the Capitol building where Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. The lawyer asked Rathbun if the footage showed him “signaling” at the man in the red jacket “to bring it on, come over and fight me.”

“Isn’t it true that you raised your left hand and invited that man?” Monroe asked.

Rathbun replied no to both questions and, when asked if he moved his left hand up in the air to motion to Webster, the officer said that it “was a motion to back up … not to come forward.”

Monroe also tried to convince jurors that a different video, which at one point shows Monroe’s open hand making contact with Webster’s face, disproves the officer’s claim that he pushed Webster.

“You call it a push, I’m gonna say a punch,” Monroe said.

During additional questioning, Rathbun confirmed that Webster did not punch him at any point but said he jumped over barricades and “was dragging me by my helmet” then “threw me to the ground.”

In an apparent attempt to downplay the allegations, Monroe pointed out that Rathbun did not report the encounter as a use-of-force incident — or the bruises he claims to have sustained during it — to the police department. But Rathbun did report a separate incident involving a different rioter in the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6, after which he had to get stitches. 

The defense attorney also raised questions about an FBI interview regarding Webster and asked if, during the interview, Rathbun had remembered that their encounter had even happened.

“Not initially,” Rathbun said. And when asked if the detective had to show him body-worn camera footage of the alleged incident to jog his memory, he replied, “yes.”

On redirect, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly asked the officer if, in his six years of experience with the police department, he always reports on-the-job injuries like bruises, minor cuts or scrapes.

Rathbun said he did not always report such injuries and that he did not report the encounter with Webster because he did not think it fell under the purview of a reportable use-of-force incident.

The prosecutor concluded by asking about Monroe’s “calling it a punch” remark: “Mr. Rathbun, did you ever punch the individual?”

“No,” he replied.

Webster’s defense team said Wednesday that they are planning to call him to testify on Thursday. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, is presiding over the case. 

Webster, 55, of White Plains, 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.

Elsewhere in the federal courthouse on Wednesday, a former member of the Proud Boys pleaded guilty to civil disorder in connection with the Capitol attack.

Louis Enrique Colon, 45, of Blue Springs, Missouri, admitted that around December 2020 is when he and other members of the far-right extremist group began planning to travel to Washington on Jan. 6.

On Jan. 6, Colon said he met up with a large group of Proud Boys at the Washington Monument, and they made their way to the Capitol grounds. Wearing a tactical vest and a helmet, Colon breached the Capitol building around 2 p.m. and “used his hands to stop” a door police were trying to close and put a chair in its path. 

He was arrested on Feb. 11, 2021, in Kansas City and he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

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.

Follow @EmilyZantowNews
Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics, Trials

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