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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Cop who breached the Capitol awaits verdict from jury

Thomas Robertson is the third Capitol riot defendant to take his case to trial.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Jury deliberations began on Friday in the case against a police officer who stormed the Capitol last year after then-President Trump lost reelection.

Thomas Robertson joined the insurrection with his friend Jacob Fracker, one of the patrolmen in a unit he supervised in Virginia's Rocky Mount Police Department. Fracker, 30, took a plea deal that extinguished his own set of charges, which would have put him behind the defense table with Robertson, 49, this week. 

During closing arguments Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower told jurors that Robertson was angry with the results of the 2020 presidential election, so he “decided to take matters into his own hands to get what he wanted.”

Berkower walked through the evidence presented during the five days of trial. She showed the jury a Facebook post Robertson made on December 19, 2021, nearly a month before the riot.

“Civility has left me,” Robertson said. “[I’m] tired of always taking the high road and being beat by those who cheat, lie, and steal to win and then allow their media to paint me as the bad guy. I won’t be disenfranchised.”

He continued: ”I've spent the last 10 years fighting an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm prepared to start one here and know a bunch of like minded and trained individuals.”

Come Jan. 6, Robertson invited Fracker and one of his neighbors to drive with him to Washington.

“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.

The men first attended pro-Trump demonstrations at the Ellipse, she said, then they walked over to the Capitol and “positioned themselves at the heart of the mayhem.”

“This was an obviously volatile and dangerous situation, and anyone with the defendant’s years of military and police training would immediately see that,” the prosecutor emphasized. But instead of turning back, he kept going — he had “prepared for this," Berkower said.

Robertson picked up his stick, put it in port arms position and stepped forward to confront approaching officers, she said.

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

Berkower then played video footage of the mob outside the Capitol and said that anyone with eyes and ears who saw that, and certainly someone with Robertson’s lifetime of military and policing experience, would know what was going on.

“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,” she said.

Later in summations, the prosecutor recalled Fracker’s testimony at trial that he and Robertson were both notified on Jan. 13, 2021, about outstanding arrest warrants against them. Robertson invited Fracker over to his house that day so they could turn themselves in together. 

Fracker said when he came over, Robertson asked for his phone and then placed it in an ammunition can along with his own device before they headed to the police station. Fracker said he never got the phone back, and those phones were never found.

Berkower also highlighted that Robertson paid Fracker $30,000 in the days after the riot. Fracker said they had both been fired by the Rocky Mount Police Department as of Jan. 10, and Robertson had offered to pay one month of his salary.

From the start of Robertson’s trial, his defense team tried to downplay his actions that day, telling jurors he did not try to obstruct Congress, rather, all he did was enter the Capitol, walked around to find Fracker, then left.


Robertson’s attorney Mark Rollins noted in closing arguments that Robertson and Fracker also packed their police badges and guns, but they decided to leave them in the car before heading to the demonstrations.

“They had the ability to take the gun and left the gun,” he said, adding that if a person wanted to hurt someone, they would “have a better chance bringing a gun, not a stick.”

Rollins insisted that Robertson did not take the defensive port arms posture to confront police; rather his muscle memory kicked in due to the way that the crowd was acting.

He was “at guard to some degree” because he did not know what the crowd’s goals were, Rollins said.

The defense attorney also said that, when Robertson got inside the Capitol, he did not break anything or injure anyone. And he and Fracker did not go past the Crypt area, unlike other rioters who went further and entered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, among other parts of the building.

Some call it “spidey senses,” Rollins said, but to “some degree they knew where the boundaries were not to go too far to break.”

Rollins also recalled testimony from an FBI agent who said Fracker made conflicting statements about his phone. At one point, Robertson said he thought he lost it on the metro, but later corrected himself only after everyone left the room and he was alone with his attorney.

The defense attorney also highlighted that Fracker admitted he did not know, on Jan. 6, how Congress certified the vote.

“His actions that day did not amount to what he may have pled to,” Rollins said. “I don’t think the man knew what was even happening in Congress to have done that.”

Closing arguments lasted about two and half hours on Friday before the jury began deliberations. 

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, an Obama appointee, is presiding over Robertson’s trial. The jury is expected to resume deliberations on Monday.

Robertson has pleaded not guilty to six charges: 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 government's case against Charles Donohoe includes these photos of him in a crowd in front of the U.S. Capitol. Donohoe is seen on the right with a ponytail and brown beanie. (Image via Courthouse News)

Elsewhere in the federal courthouse on Friday, a member of the Proud Boys pleaded guilty to two of the six charges against him and agreed to cooperate with the government, in exchange for the other charges to be dropped.

Charles Donahoe, the 33-year-old leader of the Proud Boys chapter in Kernersville, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers.

Donahoe admitted that Proud Boys members had planned to storm the Capitol and that he believed doing so would achieve the group’s goal of stopping the government from carrying out the transfer of presidential power.

He also said he was among a group of 100 or more Proud Boys who began breaching barriers at the Capitol at around 1 p.m. on Jan. 6. Donahoe told prosecutors he threw two water bottles at a line of police officers and joined the crowd that overwhelmed police and stormed the building.

Donahoe’s plea deal could shake up the bargaining table for his co-defendants, which include several high-level Proud Boys like Enrique Tarrio, former president of the national organization.

More than 775 people have been charged so far in connection with the riot, and at least 200 have pleaded guilty to mostly misdemeanor charges that carry a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment.

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Categories / Criminal, Politics, Trials

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