WASHINGTON — A former New York City police officer who swung a flagpole at and tackled an officer protecting the U.S. Capitol is claiming self-defense, with his lawyer telling jurors that his actions on Jan. 6 were "really a show of restraint."
Thomas Webster, a Donald Trump supporter who was in D.C. on Jan. 6 in support of Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, is facing six counts, including a charge of assaulting, resisting, or impeding federal officers using a dangerous weapon.
Video played during opening arguments on Tuesday shows Webster pushing a barricade and swinging a metal flagpole at an officer before tackling him to the ground, choking the officer with his gas mask.
But James E. Monroe, Webster's attorney, told jurors that the officer struck Webster and “started this whole thing.” Monroe claimed that the officer’s use of force as a mob pushed against the barricades was inappropriate, and said his client was upset by the force used against members of the mob of thousands who had already passed a barricade and were unlawfully present on the restricted grounds of the U.S. Capitol during a riot.
“This case is built on the lies of a young officer from the Metropolitan Police Department,” Monroe alleged.
Noah Rathbun, the officer who was tackled by Webster, is expected to testify.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hava Arin Levenson Mirell told jurors on Tuesday that Jan. 6 "was a day unlike any day this country has ever seen," adding that thousands of rioters had overwhelmed officers.
"Our democracy came grinding to a halt," Mirell said. Webster, she said, "came ready for battle" with a bulletproof vest issued to him by the NYPD.
Mirell called Webster "rage-filled" and said Rathbun tried to disarm Webster after he swung the metal flagpole at him, sending part of the pole flying.
Finding Webster guilty was the "only reasonable and logical verdict," Mirell said.
In an unrelated incident months after the Jan. 6 attack, on May 24, 2021, Rathbun fatally shot an armed man who had allegedly held his ex-girlfriend against her will. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, Rathbun shot the 26-year-old when the man “took up a shooting stance and pointed his rifle” at him. Rathbun, who has been on the force since 2015, was not charged in the incident.