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Guilty on all charges: Cop who rioted at the Capitol convicted

Thomas Robertson lost his job as a police supervisor after the insurrection, then had to await trial behind bars after buying guns online.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal jury returned with a unanimous verdict Monday after a day and a half of deliberations, finding a former police officer guilty of all charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol.

Thomas Robertson of Ferrum, Virginia, joined the mob that overran the halls of America's government after attending demonstrations at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 in support of then-President Donald Trump. The 49-year-old has been incarcerated for most of the last 15 months since he breached the terms of his pretrial release that forbade him from possessing any weapons.

Among the evidence against Robertson is a walking stick he brought to the Capitol. During closing arguments on Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower played video footage of the riot and noted how Robertson picked up his stick during the melee, put it in a defensive posture and stepped forward to confront approaching officers.

When someone with “years of military and police training, including a specialized certification for using a baton,” does that, the prosecutor emphasized, that is when a “stick becomes a weapon — in the hands of a trained professional like this.” 

“Just like Mr. Fracker and everyone else around him in that first wave of people to breach the building — the defendant entered the Capitol to overturn the election," Berkower continued.

Robertson's trial in Washington lasted for five days, during which the government elicited witness testimony from Jacob Fracker, a former patrolman in his unit at the Rocky Mount Police Department. The 30-year-old Fracker would have been seated next to Robertson at the defense table this month for his own participation in the Capitol riot, but he took a plea deal in exchange for his charges getting dropped.

Robertson had invited Fracker and one of his neighbors from Virginia to travel to Washington during the week of Jan. 6. “Before he even left this home … he anticipated violence because he packed a gas mask, military food rations and a large wooden stick that he knew how to use as a weapon,” Berkower said.

Showing jurors a Facebook post that Robertson made on December 19, 2021, nearly a month before the riot, the prosecutor told the jury about Robertson's refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election.

”I’ve spent the last 10 years fighting an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Robertson wrote. “I’m prepared to start one here and know a bunch of like minded and trained individuals.”

It was after that, Berkower said, that Robertson “decided to take matters into his own hands to get what he wanted.”

In hours of witness testimony last week, Fracker recounted how Robertson disposed of their phones and paid him $30,000 in the days after the riot. They had both been placed on leave by the Rocky Mount Police Department as of Jan. 10, and Fracker said Robertson had offered to pay one month of his salary.

It was the defense's position throughout the trial, however, that Robertson did not try to stop both chambers of Congress from certifying the election on Jan. 6. Robertson insists that all he did was enter the Capitol, walk around to find Fracker, then leave.

It was also Robertson's claim that the stick was merely an aid he used for mobility due to injuries sustained while deployed in Iraq for the U.S. military.

Defense attorney Mark Rollins claimed Robertson did not take a defensive posture to confront police; rather his muscle memory kicked in due to the way that the crowd was acting.

During closing arguments, Rollins noted that Robertson and Fracker had also packed their police badges and guns for their trip to Washington but left them in the car before heading to demonstrations.

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“They had the ability to take the gun and left the gun,” Rollins said. If a person wanted to hurt someone, the lawyer pressed, they would “have a better chance bringing a gun, not a stick.”

Robertson was initially granted bail after his arrest, only to lose it after the government caught wind of emails showing that Robertson was actively engaged in the acquisition of several weapons.

“In connection with this search, the FBI not only found evidence that Robertson had amassed an arsenal of 34 firearms through a local [federal firearms licenser] in Roanoke, but agents also found a loaded M4 rifle, ammunition, and a partially assembled pipe bomb in Robertson’s home,” prosecutors wrote in a June 30 motion.

Robertson, who is a gun safety instructor, insisted the partially assembled pipe is not a destructive device but a training prop for his classes. The judge sided with the government and ordered that he be incarcerated pending trial.

Another defense tactic hinged on how far Robertson and Fracker made it into the Capitol. While the off-duty police duo did not go past the Crypt area, Rollins noted that other rioters went so far as to enter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, among other parts of the building.

Rollins additionally recalled testimony from an FBI agent who said Fracker made conflicting statements about his phone. Rollins pointed as well to the admission by Fracker that he did not know the procedure Congress undertook on Jan. 6 to certify the election results. In other words, Rollins suggested, his actions that day “did not amount to what he may have pled to.”

Fracker faces up to five years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $250,000. He is scheduled to appear in court for a status conference on April 28.

A sentencing date for Robertson has not been set. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, an Obama appointee, presided over the trial.

As of April 6, nearly 800 people have been charged in connection with the Capitol riot. More than 250 defendants have been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees. Of these, at least 85 defendants have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.

Approximately 248 defendants have pleaded guilty to federal charges, including 211 defendants who pleaded guilty to misdemeanors. Thirty-seven defendants pleaded guilty to felonies, eight of whom pleaded guilty to assaulting law enforcement officers and six were sentenced to prison terms of up to 63 months.

Nearly 140 defendants have had their cases adjudicated, including more than 50 who have been sentenced to periods of incarceration and more than 40 have been sentenced to a period of home detention.

Robertson is the second defendant charged in connection with the Capitol riot to take his case before a jury. He was convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting; civil disorder and aiding and abetting; entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly conduct in a Capitol building and obstruction of an official proceeding related to tampering with evidence.

The verdict comes about a month after the Justice Department secured the convictions of Guy Reffitt on all charges and of Couy Griffin on all but one — Griffin was acquitted of disorderly conduct. More convictions from this first round of Capitol riot trials are expected to spur more plea deals.

Elsewhere in the federal courthouse on Monday, jury selection began in the government’s case against an Ohio man accused of stealing a coat rack from the Senate Office of the Parliamentarian during the riot on Jan. 6.

Dustin Byron Thompson, 36, of Columbus, Ohio, is accused of storming the Capitol with Robert Lyon, 27, who was supposed to be Thompson’s codefendant but took a plea deal last month. Thompson wanted to call former President Donald Trump as a witness, but U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, a George W. Bush appointee, denied the motion. 

Thompson is charged of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting; theft of government property and aiding and abetting; entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly conduct in a Capitol building and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building.

Lyon pleaded guilty last month to two misdemeanors, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, in exchange for the other charges against him to be dropped. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Walton on June 3.

Courthouse News sent email requests for comment on Monday to Rollins and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. They did not respond by press time.

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