Former NYPD officer Thomas Webster sentenced to 10 years in prison on January 6 for assaulting police

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A former New York City police officer and Marine Corps veteran, who swung a flagpole at police before tackling an officer and ripping off his gas mask during the Capitol Riot on January 6, 2021, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday, the longest sentence handed down among the nearly 250 people convicted so far for their role in the insurgency.

Federal prosecutors have requested a prison sentence of more than 17 years for Thomas Webster, 56, of Goshen, NY, who was the first riot defendant charged with assaulting an officer to try his luck with a jury. Twelve others have pleaded guilty to a similar charge. But U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta said the government’s suggested sentence was disproportionate to what other rioters received – the previous maximum sentence was just over seven years – and he credited Webster’s 25 years of service with the Marines and the NYPD.

Webster took the witness stand at his trial and said he was acting in self-defense, claiming DC police officer Noah Rathbun instigated the fight. But the video showed Webster shouting at police on 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 his hand had slipped from Webster’s shoulder – before Webster swung and smashed a Marine Corps flagpole on a bike rack, then tackled Rathbun. Webster removed the officer’s gas mask, causing Rathbun to choke on tear gas, the officer said.

The jury took three hours to find Webster guilty in May of the assault and four other counts.

Mehta said he watched the video of the incident several times, “and I still remain shocked every time I see it. …You are the first aggressor. …It was an intact police line. This “It’s only by your actions, Mr. Webster, that all hell broke loose. It’s your actions that open the police cordon and let people through.”

Crowds then flocked to the Capitol, and “you were a part of it, and not a small part,” the judge said. “That context is important.”

Webster was released at a later date and walked out of the courthouse with what appeared to be a change of clothes, as if expecting to be arrested. He declined to comment as he left.

In the government’s sentencing memorandum, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hava Mirell said Webster’s argument that “a 20-year veteran of the NYPD believed he had the right to retaliate with deadly and dangerous force against the vulnerable, nonviolent officer Rathbun is not only absurd, but dangerous, and can lead others to follow suit and resort to violence against an officer due to a political grievance.

Two officers fought during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Who was wrong?

Webster, a married father of three, admitted to driving alone to Washington on Jan. 5, 2021, 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. Prosecutors said he served in the Marines from 1985 to 1989 and the NYPD from 1991 to 2011.

Federal sentencing guidelines set a sentencing range of 210 to 262 months, or 17.5 to 21.8 years. Prosecutors have recommended 17.5 years for Webster, the harshest sentence they have offered against a Jan. 6 defendant. The government’s recommendation was still the low end, although he maintained that Webster had been found guilty of “spearheading the breach in the police line at Lower West Plaza and dishonoring a democracy he had once beaten honorably to protect and serve”.

Former NYPD officer found guilty in first police assault trial on January 6

In his closing argument at trial, Webster’s attorney James E. Monroe criticized Rathbun for using inappropriate force and called him a “dishonest and unprofessional police officer”. But in her sentencing note filed last week, Monroe took a different approach. He said Webster, who once served as the protector of then-New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, “was one of the few people among the thousands of Americans in the U.S. Capitol on January 6 who should have appreciated fully the enormity of the task assigned to Officer Rathbun and his fellow officers.

“Cast into this light,” Monroe wrote, “Mr. Webster has no valid excuse to verbally assault officers along the police line; push on the bike rack; using his mast to threaten Officer Rathbun; or engaging in the indescribable act of charging and pinning Officer Rathbun to the ground.

Monroe noted that the federal probation office recommends a sentence of 120 months or 10 years. He asked Mehta to impose a sentence of 127 days, the time he served in federal custody before being released from pretrial detention.

Webster, sniffling and speaking in a hesitant voice, told the judge, “I wish I had never been to Washington, D.C., I wish the events of that horrible day had never happened.”

At the end of his remarks, he turned to the audience and faced Rathbun.

“Most importantly, Officer Rathbun, I’m sorry,” Webster said. “I put myself on the same level as you, and it was wrong. I know how much this affects you and your family, and I’m sorry.

Rathbun was not seriously injured. He was present in the courtroom but declined to comment after sentencing.

Mehta said he doubted Webster’s testimony at trial.

“The idea that you could sit in the witness box, as you have already done under oath, and tell the jurors that the reason you put your hands on his face mask was to show him that you didn’t. ‘Don’t hurt her is just not believable,’ the judge said.

But Mehta said he was troubled that the federal guidelines added more than six years to the range of possible sentences for Webster because he wore a body armor during the riot, in addition to enhancements for the use of a dangerous weapon and attack on a government official. And the judge noted that other people convicted of assaulting police officers had received sentences ranging from six to 63 months. Mehta also credited Webster’s late acceptance of responsibility.

Of the 12 defendants who pleaded guilty to assaulting police on January 6, the average sentence was 41.6 months. Of the four defendants in that group who admitted to a more serious assault, of which Webster was convicted, the average sentence was 54 months. All 12 of those defendants received credit on sentencing for “acceptance of responsibility”, which lowers the sentencing guidelines.

Webster was only the 34th defendant convicted and sentenced for any crime related to the Jan. 6 riot, according to a Washington Post database. So far, the average felony sentence has been just under 33 months. Only one accused of crime was not sentenced to prison, Jacob Fracker. Also a police officer, Fracker was placed under house arrest for two months after testifying against his co-defendant, his colleague 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.

There have now been eight jury trials, resulting in eight convictions. There have been 10 bench trials, with nine convictions. The acquittal came when a judge found that the police had allowed the defendant into the Capitol.

Robertson and Guy Refit, who were found guilty at trial but were not charged with assaulting police officers, were both sentenced to 87 months in prison. It was the longest sentence until Thursday.

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