Former NYPD officer convicted of assaulting Washington, D.C., officer during Capitol riot
First posted May 23, 2022 10:18am EDT
Last updated May 23, 2022 10:18am EDT
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In the sixth case connected to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot to go to trial, as well as the fourth jury trial, a federal jury convicted a former New York Police Department (NYPD) officer of violently assaulting a Washington, D.C., police officer during the insurrection.
Thomas Webster, a 20-year veteran of the NYPD, attended the Capitol riot. He joined the NYPD in 1991 and retired in 2011, and he served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1985 to 1989. During his time as an NYPD officer, he had a stint on then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s security detail.
Noah Rathbun, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer assaulted by Webster, wore a body camera during the riot. In May 2021, Rathbun fatally shot an allegedly armed man. He was placed on administrative leave pending the investigation, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. did not file charges against him because of insufficient evidence.
On Jan. 5, 2021, the night before the “Stop the Steal” rally, Webster drove to Washington, D.C., by himself from his home outside of Goshen, New York, according to The Associated Press.
The next day, at the insurrection, he wore a bulletproof vest and carried a Marine Corps flag on a metal pole. Webster also had brought a handgun with him from New York, but left it in his hotel room on the day of the riot.
In a February 2021 interview with the FBI, Webster said he had gone to the Capitol to show support for former President Donald Trump and petition lawmakers to reexamine the 2020 presidential election results, The New York Times reported. Webster acknowledged he was “vocal” and “upset” on the day of the riot. He claimed Rathbun encouraged him to “jump over the barrier” in what Webster called a “barroom type of moment,” claiming the MPD officer struck first.
On April 26, 2022, Webster’s trial began. With U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, who had been nominated by former President Barack Obama, presiding.
Webster’s defense centered around the claim that Rathbun provoked his aggression and that Webster was trying to defend himself. Webster also testified he did not intend to interfere with the joint session of Congress certifying the electoral count.
Rathbun’s body camera footage showed Webster screaming profanities behind a row of steel barricades before the two made physical contact. Webster then struck Rathbun with one of the barricades, in response to which Rathbun used his left hand to hit Webster’s face. “It was a hard hit, and all I wanted to do was defend myself,” Webster said during the trial.
Rathbun testified that he tried to push Webster away from a security perimeter he and other officers were working to hold.
The footage, while difficult to track, shows Webster swinging a metal flagpole at Rathbun, which Rathbun then grabs and takes from Webster. Then Webster powers through a gap in the barricades, charging at Rathbun, tackling him to the ground, and grabbing his gas mask. Rathbun testified he began choking at this moment, with the chin strap from his gas mask being pressed against his throat. Webster is then shaken off Rathbun and the two separate.
According to The AP, Webster faced six counts that included assaulting, resisting, or impeding an officer using a dangerous weapon; civil disorder; entering and remaining in restricted grounds with a dangerous weapon; disorderly and disruptive conduct in restricted grounds with a dangerous weapon; engaging in physical violence in restricted grounds with a dangerous weapon; and engaging in an act of physical violence on Capitol grounds.
Following jury deliberations, Webster convicted of six counts in indictment
On May 2, the federal jury convicted Webster of all six counts in his indictment.
After the verdict, two anonymous jurors told reporters the body camera footage capturing the assault from multiple angles helped to refute Webster’s self-defense argument. “There was no dissention among us at all. We unanimously agreed that there was no self-defense argument here at all,” one juror said.
Mehta is scheduled to sentence Webster on Sept. 2, 2022. By itself, the charge of officer assault is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, according to The AP, but sentencing guidelines will likely result in a significantly shorter prison term.Per The Times, other defendants charged in the aftermath of the riot have said they plan to argue self-defense in their own trials, arguments now potentially weakened by the outcome of Webster’s case.