WASHINGTON — A Washington police officer who was attacked by a former New York City officer during the Capitol riot testified that he was “scared” and “in pretty bad shape” after the rioter swung a flagpole and tackled him to the ground as the pro-Trump mob breached the barricades.
Metropolitan Police Officer Noah Rathbun told jurors Wednesday that police were “overwhelmed” by a “hostile” crowd at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Rathbun, who said he didn’t recall ever having been on the grounds of the Capitol before, said it was clear that the “sea of people” could easily overtake the officers protecting the building.
Former New York City police officer Thomas Webster, whose defense team concedes that he grappled with Rathbun, is trying to convince jurors that Rathbun invited the attack. It has also claimed that Rathbun "punched" Webster after Webster pushed against a barricade.
Video from several angles shown in court shows that Rathbun struck Webster with an open hand only after Webster shoved the metal barricade into him twice. Rathbun described the contact with Webster's face as incidental.
Webster’s attorney, who told jurors Tuesday that his client showed “restraint” on Jan. 6, repeatedly accused Rathbun of punching Webster and tried to claim that Rathbun “provoked” and “incited” the attack.
“I didn’t provoke this encounter,” Rathbun testified, adding that it would be both unlawful and unwise to have done so when the mob clearly outnumbered officers.
Video shows Webster, a Marine veteran, angrily approaching the police line, vulgarly calling Rathbun a “commie” and pointing his finger at him before pushing the barricades.
“Come on, take your s**t off,” Webster says. “Take your s**t off.”
While he said it was “not nice” to hear the verbal attacks, Rathbun testified that he’d “heard those things in the past” and wasn’t too fazed by them. He said it "would never be permissible" to strike a civilian in response to verbal abuse.
Rathbun testified that the man later identified as Webster dragged him to the ground and tried to rip off his gas mask.
"He grabbed my helmet and started pulling me forward," Rathbun testified. "The chin strap was across my throat. ... I was not able to breathe."
“I struggled to get him off me,” Rathbun testified. “I felt like I was being kicked.
"That's not a position that anyone wants to be in," he said.
Rathbun testified that he was "scared" and "in pretty bad shape" and that he had trouble breathing because tear gas got stuck in his mask after Webster tried to rip it off. Jurors were also shown photos of bruises on Rathbun's legs, injuries he said he sustained during the encounter.
Later, in a separate incident inside the Capitol rotunda, Rathbun's hand was cut open by a different rioter's weapon. He described seeing "blood all over the palm of my hand" after he grappled with rioters inside the building.
He ended up being taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he received stitches. At least 140 police officers were assaulted on Jan. 6, and a review of body camera video has found that "approximately 1,000 events that may be characterized as assaults on federal officers," according to the Justice Department.
The FBI has arrested nearly 800 defendants in connection with the Jan. 6 attacks. NBC News has reported that the FBI has the names of hundreds of additional Capitol suspects who haven’t yet been arrested, including dozens whose images are featured on the FBI's Capitol Violence website. The Biden administration has asked Congress for an additional $34 million to fund as many as 130 positions to prosecute Capitol attack cases.
Rathbun initially didn't report being assaulted by the man later identified as Webster. He said that he understood that all of the body camera video would be reviewed and that he thought the focus was on even worse assaults.
"A lot of officers were injured that day," he said, noting that officers died after the attack. Rathbun described the events of Jan. 6 as "tragic."
“I think it’s sad,” Rathbun testified. “I try not to think about it.
“I just think it’s unfortunate to be at the nation’s Capitol and be treated like that by another citizen,” Rathbun said.