A retired New York police officer accused of assaulting a police officer during the US Capitol riot testified at his trial on Thursday that he was trying to defend himself against a ‘rogue cop’ who punched him in the face.
Thomas Webster, who took the witness stand on the third day of his federal trial, said he felt like he had been hit with a hammer or a freight train when the Metropolitan Police Department officer Noah Rathbun reached out with an open left hand and struck the right side. of Webster’s face.
“It was painful and I was seeing stars,” Webster said. “It was a blow, and all I wanted to do was defend myself.”
Rathbun, one of dozens of officers injured on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, 2021, testified Wednesday that he did not punch or scuffle with Webster.
A grand jury indicted Webster on six counts, including a charge of assaulting Rathbun with a dangerous weapon, a metal flagpole. He is not charged with entering the Capitol on January 6.
Wore a bulletproof vest
The trial is scheduled to resume on Friday with further testimony from Webster, who was wearing a body armor and carrying a U.S. Marine Corps flag on a metal pole when he approached the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Rathbun’s body camera video shows the officer touching Webster’s chest and poking his face after the New York man slammed a bike rack on him. Rathbun said he was trying to back Webster from a security perimeter he and other officers were struggling to maintain behind a row of metal bike racks.
After Rathbun made contact with his face, Webster swung a metal flag pole towards the officer in a downward chopping motion, hitting a bike rack in front of the officer. After Rathbun grabbed the broken post, Webster charged the officer and tackled him to the ground.
Webster, 56, said he believed Rathbun was about to come after him and recalled thinking, “He’s gone rogue.”
“He acts in a different way to other police officers, and I’m worried about my safety,” he said.
Rathbun testified that he began to choke when Webster grabbed his gas mask, pressing the chin strap to the officer’s throat.
“It’s not a position anyone wants to be in,” Rathbun said.
Webster said he grabbed Rathbun by the gas mask because he wanted the officer to see his hands.
Webster’s jury trial is the fourth for a Capitol riot defendant and the sixth overall. The first three Capitol Riot defendants to get a jury trial were found guilty on all counts in their respective indictments.
Webster’s trial is the first of dozens of cases in which Capitol riot defendants are accused of assaulting police.
Two other defendants testified during their trials. Dustin Byron Thompson, an Ohio man who was convicted by a jury of preventing Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory, said he was following orders from then-President Donald Trump . A judge who heard testimony without a jury acquitted Matthew Martin, a New Mexico man who said outnumbered police allowed him and others to enter the Capitol through the gates of the rotunda.
Webster’s attorney told jurors during opening statements at the trial on Tuesday that Rathbun “started it all” by hitting Webster. Webster said Rathbun made a hand gesture that he perceived as an invitation to fight.
“It was shocking to see that,” Webster said. “I’ve never seen a cop do anything like that.”
“Unique moment in history”
Webster said he became upset when he saw other injured people in the crowd, including a woman with blood on her face, and approached the line of officers to inquire. Rathbun’s body camera captured Webster shouting profanities and insults at the officer before they made physical contact.
“I was expressing my First Amendment well,” Webster said.
Webster said he went to the Capitol after hearing Trump’s speech to Congress’ “petition” to “review” the results of the 2020 presidential election but not to disrupt the joint vote certification session of the Electoral College.
“It was a unique moment in history,” he said.
During her cross-examination of Webster, Justice Department prosecutor Katherine Nielsen showed her video footage of Webster swinging the flagpole in Rathbun’s direction, charging at him and then at him after having plaque. She asked Webster if he saw fear on her face in any of these images.
“That’s anger, isn’t it,” she asked.
“Yes, because I was hit,” he replied.
Rathbun reported a hand injury during a separate encounter with a rioter inside the Capitol rotunda. He did not report any injuries caused by Webster, but jurors saw photos of leg bruises that Rathbun attributed to his confrontation with the retired officer.
Webster, who lives near Goshen, New York, retired from the NYPD in 2011 after 20 years of service. His departmental service 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.
More than 780 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riots. The Justice Department says more than 245 of them have been charged with assaulting or obstructing law enforcement.