WASHINGTON (AP) — A retired New York City Police Department officer was sentenced Thursday to a record 10-year prison term for assaulting the U.S. Capitol. and use a metal flagpole to attack one of the police officers trying to hold off a mob from Donald Trump supporters.
Thomas Webster’s jail term is the longest yet of about 250 people punished for their behavior during the January 6, 2021 riots. The previous longest was shared by two other rioterswho were individually sentenced to seven years and three months in prison.
Webster, a 20-year NYPD veteran, was the first Capitol defendant to be tried on an assault charge and the first to present a self-defense argument. A jury rejected Webster’s claim that he was defending himself when, on Jan. 6, he assaulted Metropolitan Police Department police officer Noah Rathbun and took his gas mask outside the Capitol.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta has sentenced Webster, 56, to 10 years in prison plus three years of supervised release. He allowed Webster to report to jail on a date to be determined rather than immediately take him into custody.
“Mr. Webster, I don’t think you’re a bad person,” the judge said. “I think you were caught up in the blink of an eye. But as you know, even getting caught up in a moment has consequences.”
Webster turned to apologize to Rathbun, who was in court but did not address the judge. Webster said he wished he’d never come to Washington, DC
“I wish the terrible events of that day had never happened,” he told the judge.
The judge said Rathbun was not Webster’s only victim on Jan. 6.
“The other victim was democracy, and that cannot be taken lightly,” Mehta added.
Federal prosecutors had recommended a prison term of 17 years and six months. The court’s probation service had recommended a 10-year prison term. Mehta was not bound by the recommendations.
In a lawsuit, prosecutors accused Webster of “disgracing a democracy he once fought honorably to protect and serve.” Webster led the charge against police barricades on the Capitol’s Lower West Plaza, prosecutors said. They likened the attack to a medieval battle, in which rioters pelted officers with improvised projectiles and engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
“Nothing can explain or justify Mr. Webster’s anger. Nothing can explain or justify his violence,” US assistant attorney Hava Mirell said on Thursday.
Defense attorney James Monroe said in a court filing that the crowd was “led by unscrupulous politicians” and others who propagated the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen of the Republican incumbent. He wondered why prosecutors claimed Webster did not deserve leniency for his 25 years of service in his country and New York City.
“That’s not how we measure justice. That’s revenge,” Monroe said.
In May, the jurors deliberated for less than three hours before convicting Webster on all six counts in his charges, including a charge that he assaulted Rathbun with a dangerous weapon, the flagpole.
Also Thursday, a New Jersey man pleaded guilty to using pepper spray on police officers, including one who later died. Officer Brian Sicknick suffered a stroke the day after the riots and died of natural causes. He and other officers stood guard behind metal bike racks as the crowd of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.
Julian Khater, 33, pleaded guilty to two counts of assaulting or hindering officers with a dangerous weapon. He could face up to 20 years in prison, although at a December hearing he is likely to receive a sentence ranging from about 6 1/2 to 8 years.
The case against Khater and a second man was among the most notable cases brought by the Justice Department. George Pierre Tanios carried the pepper spray in a backpack. Tanios previously pleaded guilty and will also be sentenced in December.
Webster had testified at trial that he was trying to protect himself from a “rogue agent” who punched him in the face. He also accused Rathbun of inciting the confrontation.
Rathbun testified that he had not hit or fought with Webster. Rathbun said he was trying to get Webster back from a security perimeter that he and other officers were struggling to maintain.
Rathbun’s body camera captured Webster yelling swear words and insults before making physical contact. The video shows Webster slamming into one of the bike racks at Rathbun before the officer reached out with an open left hand and hit the right side of Webster’s face.
After Rathbun punched him in the face, Webster swung a metal flagpole at the officer in a downward chopping motion, hitting a bike rack. Rathbun grabbed Webster’s busted pole, who charged at the cop, knocked him to the ground, grabbed his gas mask and choked him by the chinstrap.
Webster drove alone to Washington, DC, from his home near Goshen, New York, on the eve of the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, where Trump addressed thousands of supporters. Webster wore a bulletproof vest and carried a Marine Corps flag on a metal pole as he joined the crowd storming the Capitol.
Webster said he had gone to the Capitol to “request” lawmakers to “look again” at the results of the 2020 presidential election. But he testified that he had no intention of interfering with the joint session of Congress to to certify President Joe Biden ‘s victory.
Webster retired from the NYPD in 2011 after 20 years of service, including a stint with then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s private security. He served with the US Marine Corps from 1985 to 1989 before joining the NYPD in 1991.
Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.