A federal jury on Monday convicted Thomas Webster, a 57-year-old former NYPD officer who was part of the January 6 Capitol riot, on six charges, including assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon. The case marked the first time one of the rioters had opted to take an assault charge to a jury trial. And it showed the downsides of that approach for defendants.
Footage from January 6 shows Webster, a onetime Marine and 20-year veteran of the NYPD, fighting with Washington police officer Noah Rathbun outside the Capitol building. The Washington Post reported on the details:
In video shown to the jury, Webster emerges from a crowd, jabs his finger at officers and hurls obscenities at a line of police before pushing a metal bike rack barrier into Rathbun. When the D.C. officer pushes him back hard with an open palm to the face, Webster swings down a Marine Corps flagpole he was carrying at the bike rack several times and tackles the officer to the ground as the crowd surges forward.
Webster’s lawyers argued that Rathbun had instigated the confrontation by striking Webster in the face, calling him a “rogue cop.” The jury did not find that argument convincing, taking only three hours to convict the defendant on a range of charges that included interfering with police officers during a riot and trespassing with a deadly or dangerous weapon on Capitol grounds. Afterward, one juror called their decision “very quick and obvious.” Webster, who frequently worked on Michael Bloomberg’s security detail in the 2000s, now faces years in prison.
Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice has put up a strong record in Capitol-riot cases so far. The two defendants who faced juries prior to Webster — Guy Wesley Reffitt and Thomas Robertson — were both convicted on all counts. Dozens more have pleaded guilty and been sentenced. However, a judge recently acquitted one defendant, Matthew Martin, of misdemeanor charges, a decision that has inspired others to forgo plea deals and try their luck. Hundreds of cases stemming from the riot have not yet been resolved.