By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal jury on Monday convicted a New York Police Department veteran of assaulting an officer during the U.S. Capitol riot, rejecting his claim that he was defending himself when he attacked the officer and grabbed his gas mask.
Thomas Webster, a 20-year veteran of the NYPD, was the first Capitol riot defendant to stand trial for assault and the first to present a case of self-defense to a jury.
Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before finding Webster guilty of all six counts in his indictment, including a charge of assaulting Metropolitan Police Department officer Noah Rathbun with a dangerous weapon. , a metal mast. The assault charge alone carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, although sentencing guidelines likely recommend a much shorter prison term.
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Webster, 56, testified that he was trying to protect himself from a “rogue cop” who punched him in the face. He also accused Rathbun of fomenting the confrontation.
Rathbun testified that he did not punch or start a fight with Webster as a violent mob attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, preventing Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election on the then President Donald Trump.
Two jurors who spoke to reporters after the verdict said videos capturing the officer’s assault from multiple angles were crucial evidence rebutting Webster’s self-defense argument.
“I guess we were all surprised that he even made that defense,” said a juror on condition of anonymity. “There was no dissension between us. We unanimously agreed that there was no argument of self-defense here at all.”
Another juror, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said Webster’s claim of self-defense “just didn’t come true.”
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta is due to sentence Webster on September 2.
Webster’s jury trial was the fourth for a Capitol riot case. The first three defendants to obtain a jury trial were also found guilty on all counts in their respective indictments. A judge decided two other cases without a jury, acquitting one of the defendants and partially acquitting the other.
Webster, who wore a mask in court, showed no obvious reaction to the verdict.
“We are disappointed,” defense attorney James Monroe said after the verdict, “but we recognized early on that people here (in Washington, DC) were quite traumatized by what happened on the 6th Jan. And I think we’ve seen some of that come through today.
Prosecutors requested that Webster be detained, but the judge agreed to let him go free until sentencing. He will continue to be monitored with an ankle bracelet. The judge said it was “tight” to jail him immediately, but noted he had complied with current release conditions and had no previous convictions.
Webster drove alone to Washington from his home near Goshen, New York, on the eve of the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally. He was wearing a body armor and carried a United States Marine Corps flag on a metal pole as he approached the Capitol, after listening to Trump address thousands of supporters.
Webster said he went to the Capitol to “ask” lawmakers to “review” the results of the 2020 presidential election. But he testified he had no intention of interfering with the joint session of Congress to certify the vote of the Electoral College.
Rathbun’s body camera captured Webster shouting profanity and insults before they made physical contact. Webster said he was attending his first political protest as a civilian and expressing his right to free speech when he yelled at officers behind a row of bike racks.
Body camera video shows Webster slamming one of the bike racks at Rathbun before the officer reached out with an open left hand and punched the right side of Webster’s face. Webster said he felt like he had been hit by a freight train.
“It was a blow and all I wanted to do was defend myself,” Webster said.
Rathbun said he was trying to push Webster back from a security perimeter that he and other officers were struggling to maintain.
After Rathbun punched his face, Webster swung a metal flag pole towards the officer in a downward chopping motion, hitting a bike rack. Rathbun grabbed the broken post from Webster, who charged the officer, tackled him to the ground and grabbed his gas mask.
Rathbun testified that he began to choke as the chin strap of his gas mask pressed against his throat. Webster said he grabbed Rathbun by the gas mask because he wanted the officer to see his hands.
Rathbun reported a hand injury during a separate encounter with a rioter inside the Capitol. He did not report any injuries caused by Webster, but jurors saw photos of leg bruises that Rathbun attributed to his confrontation with the retired officer.
Webster faced charges of assaulting, resisting, or obstructing an officer using a dangerous weapon; civil disorder; enter and remain in restricted area with a dangerous weapon; disorderly and disruptive driving in tight spaces with a dangerous weapon; engaging in physical violence in confined spaces with a dangerous weapon; and engaging in an act of physical violence on Capitol grounds.
Webster retired from the NYPD in 2011 after 20 years of service, which included a stint in then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s private security department. He served in the US Marine Corps from 1985 to 1989 before joining the NYPD in 1991.
More than 780 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riots. The Justice Department says more than 245 of them have been charged with assaulting or obstructing law enforcement. More than 100 officers were injured.
Two other defendants testified during their trials. Dustin Byron Thompson, an Ohio man who was convicted by a jury of preventing Congress from certifying Biden’s presidential victory, said he was following Trump’s orders. A judge who heard testimony without a jury acquitted Matthew Martin, a New Mexico man who said outnumbered police allowed him and others to enter the Capitol through the gates of the rotunda.
Two riot defendants did not testify in their trials before jurors convicted them on all counts, including interfering with officers. One of them, Thomas Robertson, was an off-duty police officer from Rocky Mount, Virginia. The other, Texas resident Guy Wesley Reffitt, was also convicted of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump nominee who acquitted Martin of all charges, also presided over a bench trial for New Mexico lawmaker Couy Griffin. McFadden convicted Griffin of unlawfully entering restricted Capitol grounds, but acquitted him of engaging in disorderly conduct.
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