WASHINGTON (AP) — A retired New York Police Department officer was sentenced Thursday to a record 10 years in prison for attack the United States Capitol and using a metal pole to assault one of the police who was trying to hold off a crowd of donald trump supporters.
Thomas Webster’s prison sentence is the longest to date among approximately 250 people who were punished for their conduct during the January 6, 2021 riot. The previous longest was shared by two other rioterswho were separately sentenced to seven years and three months in prison.
Webster, a 20-year veteran of the NYPD, was the first Capitol riot defendant to stand trial for assault and the first to present an argument in self-defense. A jury rejected Webster’s claim that he was defending himself when he tackled Metropolitan Police Department officer Noah Rathbun and grabbed his gas mask outside the Capitol on January 6.
US District Judge Amit Mehta 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 instead of immediately ordering him into custody.
“Mr. Webster, I don’t think you’re a bad person,” the judge said. “I think you were caught in a moment. But as you know, even being caught in a moment has consequences.
Webster turned to apologize to Rathbun, who was in the courtroom but did not address the judge. Webster said he wished he had never come to Washington, D.C.
“I wish the horrific events of that day had never happened,” he told the judge.
The judge said Rathbun was not Webster’s only victim on January 6.
“The other casualty was democracy, and that’s not something that can be taken lightly,” Mehta added.
Federal prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of 17 years and six months. The court’s probation service had recommended a sentence of 10 years in prison. Mehta was not bound by the recommendations.
In a court filing, prosecutors accused Webster of “dishonoring a democracy he once honorably fought to protect and serve.” Webster led the charge against police barricades in the Capitol’s Lower West Plaza, prosecutors said. They likened the attack to a medieval battle, with rioters pelting officers with makeshift projectiles and engaging in hand-to-hand combat.
“Nothing can explain or justify Mr. Webster’s rage. Nothing can explain or justify his violence,” Assistant US Attorney Hava Mirell said Thursday.
Defense attorney James Monroe said in a court filing that the mob was ‘guided by unscrupulous politicians’ and others promote the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen of the incumbent Republican President. He questioned why prosecutors argued that Webster did not deserve clemency for his 25 years of service to his country and to New York.
“That’s not how we measure justice. This is revenge,” Monroe said.
In May, jurors deliberated less than three hours before convicted Webster of all six counts in his indictment, including a charge of assaulting Rathbun with a dangerous weapon, the flagpole.
Also on 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 riot 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 obstructing officers with a dangerous weapon. He could face up to 20 years in prison, but will likely face a sentence of around 6½ to 8 years at a hearing scheduled for December.
The case against Khater and a second man was among the most notable brought by the Justice Department. George Pierre Tanios brought the pepper spray in a backpack. Tanios previously pleaded guilty and is also expected to be sentenced in December.
Webster had testified at trial that he was trying to protect himself from a “rogue cop” who punched him in the face. He also accused Rathbun of fomenting the confrontation.
Rathbun testified that he did not strike or seek a fight with Webster. Rathbun said he was trying to push Webster back from a security perimeter that he and other officers were struggling to maintain.
Rathbun’s body camera captured Webster shouting profanity and insults before they made physical contact. Video shows Webster slamming one of the bike racks at Rathbun before the officer reached out with an open left hand and punched the right side of Webster’s face.
After Rathbun punched his face, Webster swung a metal flag pole towards the officer in a downward chopping motion, hitting a bike rack. Rathbun grabbed the broken post from Webster, who charged the officer, tackled him to the ground and grabbed his gas mask, choking him by the chin strap.
Webster traveled 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 body armor and carried a Marine Corps flag on a metal pole as he joined the crowd that stormed the Capitol.
Webster said he went to the Capitol to “ask” lawmakers to “review” the results of the 2020 presidential election. But he testified he had no intention of interfering with the joint session of Congress to certify the president Joe Biden is victory.
Webster retired from the NYPD in 2011 after 20 years of service, which included a stint in then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s private security department. He served in the US Marine Corps from 1985 to 1989 before joining the NYPD in 1991.
Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this report.