Thomas Webster, 56, of Goshen, NY, was the first riot defendant facing the felony charge of assaulting an officer to try his luck with a jury. Twelve others have pleaded guilty to a similar charge. Webster took the witness stand at his trial and testified that he was acting in self-defense, saying DC police officer Noah Rathbun had instigated the fight.
Video showed Webster yelling at police on the Lower West Plaza of the Capitol, as officers struggled to maintain a perimeter outside the building. Rathbun then pushed Webster in the face — Rathbun testified his hand slipped off Webster’s shoulder — before Webster swung and smashed a Marine Corps flagpole on a bike rack and then tackled Rathbun. Webster pulled the officer’s gas mask off, causing Rathbun to begin choking on tear gas, the officer testified.
The jury took three hours before finding Webster guilty in May of the assault and four other felony charges.
In the government’s sentencing memorandum, Assistant US Attorney Hava Mirell said Webster’s argument that “a 20-year NYPD veteran believed he was entitled to retaliate with deadly and dangerous force against the vulnerable and non-violent Officer Rathbun is not only absurd, but dangerous. It may cause others to follow suit and use violence against an officer because of a political grievance.”
Webster, a married father of three, admitted driving to Washington alone on Jan. 5, carrying his NYPD-issued pistol, which he did not take to the Capitol. He wore a tactical vest and carried a Marine Corps flag to the Capitol. Records show he served in the Marines from 1985 to 1989, and in the NYPD from 1990 to 2011.
Federal sentencing guidelines set a range of punishment of 210 to 262 months, or 17.5 to 21.8 years. Prosecutors recommended the 17.5 years for Webster, the stiffest punishment they have proposed against a Jan. 6 defendants. The government’s recommendation was still the low end of the range, even as they argued that Webster was convicted of “spearheading the breach of the police line at the Lower West Plaza, and for disgracing a democracy that he once fought honorably to protect and serve.”
In his closing argument, Webster’s lawyer, James E. Monroe, criticized Rathbun for using improper force and called him “a dishonest, unprofessional police officer.” But in his sentencing memo filed last week, Monroe took a different approach. He said that Webster, who once served on protective duty for then-New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, “was one of the few people among the thousands of Americans present at the US Capitol on January 6 who should have fully appreciated the enormity of the task assigned to Officer Rathbun and his fellow officers.”
“Casted in this light,” Monroe wrote, “Mr. Webster does not have a justifiable excuse for verbally abusing the officers present along the police line; pushing on the bicycle rack; using his flagpole to threaten Officer Rathbun; or in engaging in the unspeakable act of charging and tackling Officer Rathbun to the ground.”
Monroe noted that the federal probation office recommended a sentence of 120 months, or 10 years. He asked US District Judge Amit P. Mehta to impose a term below the 210-262 month range of the sentencing guidelines, which are advisory.
Of the 12 defendants who have pleaded guilty to assaulting the police on Jan. 6, the average sentence has been 41.6 months. Of the four defendants in that group who admitted a more severe assault, of which Webster was convicted, the average sentence has been 54 months. All 12 of those defendants received credit at sentencing for “acceptance of responsibility,” which lowers the sentencing guidelines.
Webster was only the 33rd defendant convicted and sentenced for any felony in connection with the Jan. 6 riots, a Washington Post database shows. The average felony sentence so far has been slightly less than 31 months. Only one felony defendant has not been sentenced to prison, Jacob Fracker. Also a police officer, Fracker was placed on two months home detention after he testified against his co-defendant, fellow officer Thomas Robertson. Robertson was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after a jury found him guilty of obstructing Congress and other charges.
There have now been eight jury trials, resulting in eight convictions. There have been 10 bench trials, with nine convictions. The acquittal occurred when a judge found that the police allowed the defendant to enter the Capitol.
Robertson and Guy Reffitt, who were both convicted at trial but were not accused of assaulting the police, were both sentenced to 87 months in prison. That had been the longest sentence until today.