Thomas Webster, 56, of Goshen, NY, 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. 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.
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.
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.
Webster, a married father of three, admitted to driving alone to Washington on January 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 the NYPD from 1990 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, even as they maintained that Webster had been found guilty of “spearheading the breach in the police line at Lower West Plaza and dishonoring a democracy that he stood in for.” was once honorably beaten to protect and serve.”
In his closing argument, Webster’s attorney, James E. Monroe, criticized Rathbun for using inappropriate force and called him a “dishonest and unprofessional policeman”. 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 U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta to impose a sentence below the advisory sentencing guidelines range of 210 to 262 months.
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 33rd 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 31 months. Only one accused of the 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 Reffitt, who were both found guilty at trial but not charged with assaulting police officers, were both sentenced to 87 months in prison. It was the longest sentence so far.