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Ex-NYPD cop who assaulted police at Capitol riot found guilty on all counts

Thomas Webster is the sixth Capitol riot defendant to go to trial rather than plead out and the sixth to be convicted.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal jury deliberated for less than three hours Monday before returning with a unanimous verdict that finds a longtime former officer of the New York City Police Department guilty of all charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol.

Thomas Webster, 56, of Goshen, New York, looked down at the table after the verdict was read. An ex-Marine and 20-year veteran of the NYPD, Webster had himself been retired from the force for 10 years when he joined the attempt to stop Congress from certifying President Donald Trump's defeat in the 2020 election. During the riot, he swung a metal pole at Metropolitan Police Department Officer Noah Rathbun, tackled the officer to the ground and tried to rip off his face mask.

Webster is the first Capitol riot defendant to go to trial for the felony charge of assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers using a deadly or dangerous weapon, and the first to bring a self-defense argument. His attorney, James Monroe, told reporters outside the courthouse on Monday that “we worked hard to challenge the government’s theory of the case.”

“We had a video that depicted exactly what transpired here, including the officer punching Tom at a time when it wasn’t necessary,” Monroe said, continuing the argument that it was Rathbun who instigated the violence on Webster's part, violence that the video also captured.

Monroe could not offer a reason for why the jury rejected their self-defense argument.

“I don’t have a good explanation,” he said. “That’s something for the jury to answer.”

Monroe did, however, point to what he called the “overwhelming” thoughts from the 14 local jurors about what transpired on Jan. 6, saying that likely impacted their ability to “keep an open mind.”

“We knew from the beginning that the folks here in D.C. were quite traumatized by what transpired on Jan. 6 and I think we saw some of this expressed today,” the attorney said.

Webster and his family are disappointed about the verdict, Monroe added. When asked about the possibility of an appeal, he said, “we’re thinking about it … that’s in the cards.”

Jurors found Webster guilty of five felonies: assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers with a dangerous weapon; obstructing officers during a civil disorder; entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, while carrying a dangerous weapon; engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, while carrying a dangerous weapon, and engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds, while carrying a dangerous weapon; and one misdemeanor, engaging in an act of physical violence in the Capitol building or grounds.

During closing arguments on Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly called Webster an “obvious threat” on Jan. 6 from the moment he approached the police line because he was pushing people and carrying a metal flagpole. 

Webster approached Rathbun, Kelly recounted, after yelling that the police are “commie motherfuckers,” then told the officer to “take your shit off” and twice shoved a bicycle rack barrier into Rathbun. When Rathbun pushed Webster back to keep him from breaching the police line — contact that defense says was actually a punch — Kelly said “the defendant responded by violently swinging a metal flagpole like a club.”

Rathbun was able to wrestle the pole away, he said, but he and the other officers were forced to retreat — and that’s when Webster charged at Rathbun with his hands raised, pinned him to the ground and tried to rip off his face mask, making it hard for Rathbun to breathe.

“You saw Thomas Webster assault Officer Rathbun with your own eyes,” Brown said, referring to video footage that captured parts of the incident and was introduced as evidence. 

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Throughout the trial, Webster’s attorney tried to have jurors interpret the same video evidence differently.

Webster himself took the witness stand Thursday. He said his day at the Capitol began with pro-Trump rallies at the Ellipse. After walking from there to the Capitol, he said he saw people with injuries emerging from the crowd and decided to go toward the front of the police line to see who was causing the injuries.

As the defense interpreted it, video of the riot shows how most officers around Rathbun were “ignoring” the crowd and “making sure they maintain a professional barrier.” Rathbun testified Wednesday that he waved at Webster to signal that he should back up.

To Webster, the veteran former cop testified Thursday, that wave from Rathbun was an invitation to fight.

“In Mr. Webster’s passion, he’s responding to this taunt,” Monroe said, adding that, as an “old cop,” Webster knew what a “bad cop” looks like.

The defense attorney also said that they obtained the evidence that Rathbun did not “want them to have,” namely, footage from body-worn police camera that he claims shows Rathbun punching Webster so hard it was like “getting hit by a freight train.” The video footage shows Rathbun’s open palm make contact with Webster’s face, which Rathbun told jurors was unintentional. 

Monroe also brought up Rathbun’s testimony that he did not report the encounter as a use-of-force incident, but he did report a separate incident involving a different rioter in the Capitol Rotunda that day, after which he had to get stitches.

Webster was arrested on Feb. 22, 2021, and was released to home detention in June. “Acquit this man,” his attorney pleaded last week, and “send him back to New York."

After the verdict was read on Monday, prosecutors sought to have Webster detained pending his sentencing date on Sept. 2.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Nielsen noted that Webster committed a crime of violence and has now been convicted of “very significant” felonies with potentially long sentences. And the jury, she said, rejected “his testimony as credible.”

Describing the motion as a "close call," U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, denied it. The judge acknowledged the seriousness of the charges, but said Webster’s current bail conditions — which require him to wear an ankle monitor and remain at home unless given approval by pretrial detention services — are sufficient to ensure his return to court.

Webster faces decades behind bars. The charge of assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers with a dangerous weapon carries a statutory maximum of 20 years’ incarceration. The two charges of entering and remaining, engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct, and engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds, while carrying a dangerous weapon, each come with up to 10 years and obstructing officers during a civil disorder carries a statutory maximum of five years. And the misdemeanor charge of engaging in an act of physical violence in the Capitol building or grounds carries up to six months. 

He is the fourth Capitol riot defendant to take his case before a Washington federal jury. All have been convicted, as were two other defendants who opted for bench trials before the Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge McFadden.

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.

Representatives for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia declined to comment.

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