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'Very quick and obvious' | Jury convicts NYPD veteran of assaulting officer in Capitol riot

Webster, a Marine Corps veteran and former NYPD officer, was convicted of six counts, including five felonies.

WASHINGTON — Jurors convicted a former NYPD officer of six counts on Monday — finding he was the aggressor when he attacked a DC Police officer outside the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6.

Thomas Webster, a Marine Corps veteran and 20-year member of the NYC police department, showed little reaction as the jury foreperson read guilty verdicts on each of the six counts against him. They include five felony charges, the most serious of them being assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon. Another Capitol riot defendant who pleaded guilty to the same count, Robert Palmer, was sentenced in December to 63 months in prison.

Jurors heard four days of testimony last week and watched footage from multiple angles showing Webster attacking DC Police Officer Noah Rathbun on Jan. 6. Webster's attorney, James E. Monroe, argued the veteran police officer was defending himself from a "rogue cop" and that Rathbun bore responsibility for instigating the assault.

Jurors needed only two hours on Monday to reject that defense, however. After the verdict, one juror described the decision as "very easy and quick." Another said they didn't find Webster's self-defense theory compelling — particularly his argument that open-palm contact Rathbun's left hand made with Webster's face amounted to a "punch."

Outside of court Monday, jurors told the reporter the decision was "very quick and obvious" and that they didn't find Webster's self-defense theory compelling.

U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta allowed Webster to return home to upstate New York while he awaits sentencing, which was set for Sept. 2. He'll remain on GPS monitoring and 24-hour home confinement until then. Although prosecutors pushed for him to be detained, Mehta said Webster's years of service in the Marines and with NYPD, and the fact that he'd abided by all release conditions so far, gave him little concern that Webster would appear for sentencing.

Monroe said the verdict was disappointing but didn't come as a shock. He'd argued unsuccessfully before trial for a change of venue, and said outside of court Monday he believed the trauma of Jan. 6 prevented jurors from having an open mind. Monroe said they were still weighing whether to appeal the verdict.

Full trial coverage:

First Self-Defense Theory Goes to Trial

Webster offered jurors a novel defense: He was, he argued, the victim of a "rogue cop" who'd provoked him into an assault on Jan. 6.

Jurors heard from DC Police Officer Noah Rathbun last week about how Webster was visibly angry and aggressive from the moment he pushed his way forward to the police perimeter outside the U.S. Capitol Building. Within 20 seconds of reaching the flimsy bike rack barricade, prosecutors said, Rathbun's bodyworn camera video showed Webster had already used a metal flagpole as a club to strike at officers. He then tackled Rathbun to the ground and attempted to rip off his helmet and gas mask, choking him in the process.

Rathbun described his fear during the assault. He said he lost sight of all the other officers around him and found himself pinned to the ground by Webster while other rioters repeatedly kicked him. He eventually regained his footing and retreated toward the Capitol.

On Thursday, Webster took the stand himself and offered a markedly different version of events. After going over his background as a U.S. Marine and NYPD officer of 20 years, Webster told jurors he traveled to D.C. on Jan. 6 as a supporter of former President Donald Trump hoping to convince Congress to “take another look” at the 2020 election. He eventually made his way to the U.S. Capitol, where, he claimed, he saw children and families crying and an elderly couple walking away with blood on the wife’s face. He claimed that was what “upset” him and drove him to push through the massive crowd to the front lines, where police were maintaining a tentative bike rack perimeter.

Over the course of that trip to the front – which took more than 20 minutes and involved scaling a waist-high wall at one point – Webster said he set three rules for himself. He would leave if he saw a restricted area sign, if he heard an announcement or if an officer told him to leave. Assistant U.S. attorney Katherine Nielsen would later bring those self-professed rules back up during cross-examination – getting Webster to admit he had seen flashbangs going off and smelled tear gas as he made his way to the front.

But, Webster claimed, he didn't attack Rathbun because he was uipset about the election or the injured people he claimed to have seen. Instead, he said, Rathbun had made a “bring it on” hand gesture inviting him to cross the barrier and fight him. The gesture was not visible on Rathbun’s bodycam video, but Webster’s attorney claimed a blurry cell phone video taken from someone above on the Lower West Terrace did. Webster also accused Rathbun, who served as a U.S. Navy Corpsman prior to joining the DC Police Department, of taking one look at the Marine Corps flag he was carrying and deciding to fight him.

Under questioning from Monroe, Webster testified that he’d served at many crowd control events during his 20 years as a housing officer in NYC and then during his time on former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s security detail. Webster said he had been trained on de-escalation techniques and on how not to respond to taunts from protestors, and that he thought Rathbun had failed to employ them. He repeatedly referred to Rathbun as a “rogue cop” and claimed he had incited the whole confrontation.

“You’ve got to de-escalate,” Webster said. “I gave him all the answers. That flag… he’s a Navy corpsman. In the Marine Corps, we treat Navy corpsmen like our mothers. If he’d said, hey man, I’m a Navy corpsman, I would have hugged him.”

Webster's self-defense theory hinged largely on a brief moment of contact between the two men. Visible in a single frame of Rathbun's bodyworn camera footage, the DC Police officer's left hand can be seen making open-palm contact with Webster's face while Webster was shoving a bike rack. Webster described that contact variously as being “violating,” like “getting hit by a hammer” and “like a freight train.” He claimed to have thought he might have suffered a concussion. Monroe repeatedly referred to the contact as a "punch" — but outside of court on Monday, a juror said they didn't view it that way.

Webster was relaxed on the stand while testifying, and made it clear that, despite his two decades with NYPD, he view himself more as a Marine on Jan. 6. He referred to himself on multiple occasions as a “military guy,” a “proud Marine” and “just a jarhead," and told jurors he'd made a point of visiting the war memorials while in D.C. He said his military service explained why he brought MREs with him to D.C. along with a military-style rucksack. He also brought his NYPD-issued bullet proof vest, which he wore to the Capitol.

During direct examination from his attorney, Webster described making split second decisions to attempt to minimize the threat officers might see in him and, later, to protect himself. But under cross-examination, his testimony was often vague and, at times, inconsistent. When it came to the flagpole he'd brought with him to the Capitol, he at first described it as "super light" and wouldn't agree it was a weapon. His attorney referred to it repeatedly as being made of hollow aluminum. But once Rathbun had wrested control of it, Webster said he became scared for his safety.

"I was concerned about what he was going to do with that pole," Webster said.

Webster also played up his physicality at points while downplaying it at others. He said he shoved the bike rack at officers to show them he could easily push his way through it "like a farm gate" and, after noting he'd played sports when he was younger, said he came at Rathbun "like an old-school football player." But under questioning from Nielsen, he suggested the officer had just fallen down and claimed repeatedly to have been scared of the much smaller man.

Ultimately, jurors rejected Webster's self-defense claim. After the verdict was read, jurors who spoke to reporters outside of the courthouse made it clear they saw Webster as the aggressor in the assault.

Jury Convictions Mount in Riot Cases

Webster marks the fourth Capitol riot defendant to be convicted on all counts by a jury and the second former police officer convicted in the case. Another defendant, Dustin Thompson, was convicted on all counts against him in a bench trial. One defendant, Matthew Martin, was acquitted by U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden on the basis that it was "plausible" he believed police had let him into the building.

In March, jurors convicted Texas Three Percenter Guy Reffitt — the first Capitol riot defendant to go to trial — on five felony counts for leading the mob against police at the steps to the Senate Wing door. A month later, another jury convicted former Rocky Mount, Virginia, police officer Thomas Robertson of six counts, including felony counts of obstruction of an official proceeding and civil disorder. Both could face years in prison at sentencing.

The same month as Reffitt, McFadden convicted Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin of one misdemeanor count of entering a restricted area at a bench trial. McFadden ruled Griffin was not guilty of a second count of disorderly conduct.

In addition to the convictions, hundreds of rioters have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from assaulting police to obstruction to weapons charges in connection with Jan. 6 — most recently Brian Ulrich, of Georgia, who told Judge Mehta on Friday that he and other members of the Oath Keepers, including founder Stewart Rhodes, had conspired to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. Ulrich, like other members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys who've pleaded guilty, will have to wait for sentencing until after he's testified at the trials of his former co-defendants.

We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.

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