Thomas Webster, 56, of Goshen, NY, was the first riot suspect charged with assaulting an officer to try his luck with a jury. Twelve others have pleaded guilty to similar charges. Webster took the stand at his trial and testified that he acted in self-defense and said DC police officer Noah Rathbun instigated the fight.
Video showed Webster yelling at police in the Capitol’s Lower West Plaza as officers struggled to maintain a perimeter outside the building. Rathbun then shoved Webster in the face—Rathbun testified that his hand slipped off Webster’s shoulder—before Webster waved and slammed a Marine Corps flagpole on a bike rack, then tackled Rathbun. Webster pulled off the officer’s gas mask, causing Rathbun to choke on tear gas, the officer testified.
It took the jury three hours to find Webster guilty of the assault and four other charges in May.
In the administration’s sentencing memorandum, US Assistant US Attorney Hava Mirell said Webster’s argument that “a 20-year NYPD veteran believed he had the right to retaliate with deadly and dangerous force against the vulnerable.” and non-violent officer Rathbun, is not only absurd, but also dangerous. It could lead others to follow suit and use violence against an officer over a political complaint.”
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Webster, a married father of three, admitted that he had driven to Washington on Jan. 5 alone with 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 that he served in the Marines from 1985 to 1989 and the NYPD from 1990 to 2011.
Federal sentencing guidelines set a penalty range of 210 to 262 months, or 17.5 to 21.8 years. Prosecutors recommended 17 years for Webster, the harshest sentence they have proposed against a Jan. 6 defendant. The government’s recommendation was still: the low end of the range, even if they claimed Webster had been convicted of “leading the police line breach in the Lower West Plaza, and for disgracing a democracy he once fought honorably to protect and to serve.”
In his closing statement, Webster’s attorney, James E. Monroe, criticized Rathbun for using inappropriate force, calling him “a dishonest, unprofessional police officer.” But in his sentencing memo filed last week, Monroe took a different approach. He said Webster, who once held a protective role for then-New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, “was one of the few people among the thousands of Americans who attended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. should have fully appreciated the task. assigned to Officer Rathbun and his fellow officers.”
“Casted in this light,” Monroe wrote, “Mr. Webster has no justifiable excuse for verbally insulting officers present along the police line; pushing the bike rack; using his flagpole to threaten Officer Rathbun; or engaging in the unspeakable act of attacking and tackling Officer Rathbun to the ground.”
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Monroe noted that the federal probation agency recommended a 120-month or 10-year sentence. He asked U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta to impose a term under the 210-262 month range of the sentencing guidelines, which are advisory.
Of the 12 defendants who pleaded guilty on January 6 to assaulting the police, the average sentence is 41.6 months. Of the four defendants in that group who admitted a more serious assault for which Webster was convicted, the average sentence was 54 months. All 12 of those defendants received sentencing credit for “acceptance of responsibility,” which lowers the conviction guidelines.
Webster was only the 33rd defendant to be convicted and convicted of every crime related to the Jan. 6 riots, a Washington Post database shows. The average sentence for a crime to date has been just under 31 months. Only one felony suspect has not been sentenced to prison, Jacob Fracker. Also a police officer, Fracker was placed on two months house arrest 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 obstruction of Congress and other charges.
To date, there have been eight jury trials, resulting in eight convictions. There have been 10 court trials, with nine convictions. The acquittal came 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 not charged with assaulting police, were both sentenced to 87 months in prison. That was the longest sentence to date.