WASHINGTON – A federal jury on Monday found a New York City Police Department veteran guilty of assaulting an officer during a riot at the U.S. Capitol, rejecting his claim that he was defending himself when he collided with an officer and grabbed his gas mask.
Thomas Webster, a 20-year veteran New York City police veteran, was the first accused in the Capitol riots to be tried on charges of assault, and the first to present jury arguments in self-defense. Webster, who wore a face mask in court, did not show a clear reaction to the verdict, which found him guilty on all six counts, one of which is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Webster, 56, testified that he was trying to protect himself from the “villain” who punched him in the face. He also accused metropolitan police officer Noah Rathbone of inciting the confrontation.
Rathbone testified that he did not fight Webster when a brutal mob attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, preventing Congress from approving Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election over then-President Donald Trump.
Webster’s jury was the fourth in the Capitol riots. The first three defendants, who received a jury trial, were found guilty on all charges. The judge heard two more cases without a jury, acquitted one of the defendants and partially acquitted the other.
The grand jury accused Webster of six counts, including that he attacked Ratbun with a dangerous weapon, a metal flag. Webster was not accused of entering the Capitol on January 6. His sentence is scheduled for September 2.
Prosecutors requested that Webster be detained pending sentencing, but the judge agreed to allow him to remain at large pending the hearing. He will be watched with a bracelet. The judge said it was a “careful question” whether he should be jailed immediately, but noted that he met the current conditions of release and has no previous conviction.
Webster alone was driving to Washington, D.C., from his home near Goshen, New York, ahead of the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally. He was wearing a body armor and carrying a U.S. Marine Corps flag on a metal pole as he approached the Capitol after hearing Trump address thousands of supporters.
Webster said he went to the Capitol to “ask” lawmakers to “reconsider” the results of the 2020 presidential election. But he testified that he did not intend to interfere in the joint session of Congress to approve the vote of the Electoral College.
Rathbone’s camera captured Webster, who shouted obscene language and insults before they came into physical contact. Webster said he attended his first political protest as a civilian and expressed his rights to free speech when shouting at officers behind a number of bike racks.
Video from the camera shows Webster hitting one of the bike racks in Ratbun before the officer reached out with an open left hand and hit the right side of Webster’s face. Webster said it felt as if he had been hit by a freight train.
“It was a hard blow, and all I wanted to do was protect myself,” Webster said.
Webster also said he believed Rathbone was following him, and recalled thinking, “He became a scoundrel.”
Ratbun said he was trying to push Webster out of the security perimeter, which he and other officers had difficulty maintaining.
After Rathbone hit him in the face, Webster waved a metal flag at the officer in a devastating downward motion, hitting the bike rack. Ratbun grabbed a broken pole from Webster, who lunged at the officer, knocked him to the ground and grabbed a gas mask.
Ratbun testified that he began to choke as his chin strap on the gas mask pressed against his throat.
“This is not the position someone wants to be in,” Ratbun said.
Webster said he grabbed Ratbun by the gas mask because he wanted the officer to see his hands.
During closing arguments in the trial, U.S. Attorney General Brian Kelly urged jurors to reject Webster’s arguments in self-defense.
“Don’t let the defendant withdraw because of what he did that day,” Kelly said.
Defense attorney James Monroe said Webster has a right to defend himself against a “bad cop” who used excessive force.
“Stand up for the truth. And I’m telling the whole truth, “Monroe told the jury.
Ratbun reported a hand injury as a result of a separate meeting with a rebel in the Capitol. He did not report any injuries to Webster, but jurors saw photos of bruised legs that Rathbone attributed to his confrontation with the retired officer.
A metropolitan police detective who conducted the investigation said Ratbun did not remember his meeting with Webster a few days after the riots. Ratbun said seeing the video from the body camera refreshed his memory.
Webster was accused of attacking, resisting, or obstructing an officer using dangerous weapons; civil unrest; entry and stay in restricted areas with dangerous weapons; hooliganism and destructive behavior in restricted areas with dangerous weapons; the use of physical violence with dangerous weapons in a restricted area; and participation in acts of physical violence in the Capitol.
Webster left the New York City Police Department in 2011 after 20 years of service, which included work in the private security of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1985 to 1989, before joining New York City Police in 1991.
More than 780 people have been charged with federal riots. The justice ministry says more than 245 of them have been charged with assault or obstruction by law enforcement. More than 100 officers were injured.
Two other defendants testified in their trials. Dustin Byron Thompson, a man from Ohio who was convicted by a jury for obstructing Congress from approving Joe Biden’s presidential victory, said he was following orders from then-President Donald Trump. A judge who heard the testimony without a jury acquitted Matthew Martin, a New Mexico resident who said more police officers allowed him and others to enter the Capitol through the Rotonda door.
Two defendants in the riots did not testify in court before a jury found them guilty of all charges, including interfering with officers. One of them, Thomas Robertson, was a freelance police officer from Rocky Mount, Virginia. Another, Texas resident Guy Wesley Refit, was also convicted of storming the Capitol with a gun to his holster.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, Trump’s candidate who acquitted Martin on all charges, also presided over the trial of New Mexico-elected official Cui Griffin. McFadden found Griffin guilty of illegally entering the limited territory of the Capitol, but acquitted him of hooliganism.