A federal jury on Monday found a former Marine and retired New York City police officer guilty of assaulting an officer at the U.S. Capitol. He charged one of them, knocking him to the ground and grabbing his helmet.
Thomas Webster, 56, was found guilty on six counts of assaulting Metropolitan Police Department officer Noah Rathbun, interfering with police during a civil disorder, and being unlawfully in a restricted area outside the Capitol with a weapon. in his case, a hollow weapon. metal flagpole with a US Marine Corps flag on top that he had brought to Washington from his home.
Webster was the first person to go to trial in connection with the events of January 6 to prove a claim of self-defense to a jury. The guilty verdict, which came after roughly two hours of deliberation, is likely to cause other defendants to pause to consider a similar strategy, especially in cases like Webster’s, where the government can rely on the mountain of evidence. video evidence from January 6 to build your case. .
A juror who agreed to speak to reporters outside but declined to share his name said he found the prosecution’s case against Webster “very comprehensive” and felt “pretty comfortable” returning a full guilty verdict. Webster’s testimony on the stand, in which he claimed he had acted in self-defense, “provided nothing positive for his case,” the man said.
“There was so much evidence from every conceivable angle. There was so much video footage. It was all laid out in front of us in a really comprehensive way,” he said.
Prosecutors presented Webster to the jury as a man “full of rage” who launched an unprovoked attack on overwhelmed and outnumbered police officers who were trying, ultimately unsuccessfully, to hold off the crowd of thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump. Trump who had descended on the Capitol complex. Webster and his attorney, James Monroe, portrayed Rathbun as a “rogue” cop who picked a fight with Webster and then beat him so hard that Webster felt compelled to respond physically to protect himself from him.
The jury learned that Webster had been a Trump supporter and believed in at least some of the unsubstantiated conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was tainted by voter fraud, but those beliefs did not feature prominently in the government’s case. against him. Webster was not charged with obstructing congressional certification of election results or other crimes that would have required a jury to investigate exactly why Webster went to Capitol Hill and what he intended to do while he was there.
Webster was originally in jail after being arrested, but US District Judge Amit Mehta agreed to let him go home while his case was pending in June 2021. Mehta was scheduled for sentencing on September 2. after; the judge rejected the government’s request to jail him pending sentencing, saying it was a “close call”, but noted that Webster had already complied with restrictive release conditions prior to his trial.
The most serious charge Webster was convicted of, assaulting Rathbun with a gun, carried a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, though he is likely to face much less than that. The harshest sentence yet for someone who pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer with a gun on Capitol Hill is 63 months.
During three days of witness testimony, the jury repeatedly viewed a collection of videos showing Webster’s confrontation with Rathbun from different angles, from start to finish. Rathbun’s body camera recorded the altercation up close, giving jurors a clear description of not only Webster’s actions but also what he said. Images captured by Capitol Hill surveillance cameras and people in the crowd offered bird’s-eye perspectives.
As Webster emerged into the police line near the west side of the Capitol, Rathbun’s body camera showed him shouting angrily and gesturing at officers, who were trying to hold a row of metal bike racks in place against the rapidly growing crowd. at the group of officers, but he also seemed to focus his anger on Rathbun, yelling, “You bloody piece of shit. Damn communist son of a bitch. Are you going to attack the Americans? Don’t fuck that. [unintelligble] Damn communist shit. Come on, fuck off, fuck off, communist motherfuckers. Fuck off”.
Webster, who testified in his own defense, told the jury that he was upset because he had seen signs that civilians were being injured further back in the crowd, although his defense did not present evidence of that. On cross-examination, the prosecutor noted that when Webster voluntarily spoke to the FBI a month after the insurrection, he did not say that was why he had approached the police line and did not speak of seeing injuries.
Webster claimed that Rathbun made a hand motion outside the frame of his body camera inviting Webster to cross the police line and fight. His lawyer argued that one of the videos captured the hand gesture, but the enlarged images were unclear. Rathbun denied making such a gesture and maintained that he was using his hands to try to distance himself from Webster.
Rathbun pushed Webster back as Webster started to push the rack toward him. The officer said that when he used his left hand to strike Webster, he made incidental contact with the right side of Webster’s head. He said it wasn’t a punch, a body camera still image of him showed his open hand on Webster’s head, and that the contact was provoked. He found that the crowd was getting more hostile and the whole situation was getting almost more dangerous, that Webster had already verbally signaled that he wanted to fight by telling the officers to take the “shit” off and trying to push his way through, and that he felt he had to stop Webster from going any further.
Meanwhile, Webster maintained that the facial contact was a blow that felt like a “freight train” and made him see “stars.” He testified that he believed Rathbun posed a threat, which is why he took the flagpole he was holding and waved it at the officers. The pole hit a metal bike rack and snapped in half; Webster claimed that he deliberately tried to avoid hitting the officers. Rathbun said the two men got into a fight and he grabbed the remaining piece of pole Webster was holding. Webster said he let the officer keep it.
Rathbun described retreating with other officers to regroup, and his body camera footage showed Webster squaring his arms and charging. Both men went down, with Webster on top of Rathbun. The jury saw footage of Webster with his hands on Rathbun’s helmet and gas mask. The officer said that Webster was trying to remove the equipment from his head, suffocating him in the process. Webster said he put his hands in front of Webster’s face to make sure the officer saw where his hands were; He explained that, as a former police officer, he understood that law enforcement was afraid of not knowing where a person’s hands were, and showing that he was not a threat and could not hurt him again.
After that final altercation, the two men parted ways and had no further contact. Webster remained outside on the Capitol grounds for a while longer; he was not charged with any other acts of violence or destruction of property, and there was no evidence that he entered the building. The government showed the jury a video recorded by an unidentified person in the crowd in which Webster told the camera: “Send more patriots.”
Aside from Webster’s testimony, his defense had three friends serve as character witnesses. All said they had never seen him behave violently, describing him as “peaceful”, “calm” and respectful. A prosecutor presented them with footage of Webster’s confrontation with Rathbun, and when they objected after being asked to acknowledge the depicted violence, the questioning was quickly over.
The jury began deliberating late on Friday and resumed around 9:30 am Monday. Lawyers began filing into the courtroom around 11:15 a.m.
Webster was the fourth person charged in connection with Jan. 6 to appear before a jury, with the other three also found guilty. Two other defendants have opted for bench trials before a judge; one received a mixed verdict and the other was completely acquitted. Dozens of trials are scheduled for the rest of this year and into 2023.