An ex-NYPD officer convicted of attacking police at the Capitol on Jan. 6 says he in part blames his actions on “flashbacks” from his past years working as a cop in the Bronx.
Thomas Webster, 56, was found guilty in May after a jury didn't buy his story that he was acting in self-defense and attempting to help an officer "see my hands" when he grabbed the officer's face mask after he swung a flag at the officer and then charged through a police barricade and tackled the officer to the ground.
Video shows Webster, in a bright red jacket, charging officers, including DC Metropolitan Police officer Noah Rathbun, on the lower West Terrace of the US Capitol. Rathbun testified that he struggled to breathe when Webster grabbed his mask because the strap was cutting off his oxygen.
Federal prosecutors are seeking what would be the longest sentence in a Jan. 6 case to date — 210 months, or 17.5 years, in federal prison — ahead of Webster's sentencing on Thursday.
His lawyers are seeking a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines in his case. In a letter they filed seeking a lower sentence, Webster told a psychologist that he could make a connection between his violent actions at the Capitol to a past fight with an armed robber in the Bronx who was trying to get his gun. Webster told the psychologist he attacked a Capitol Police officer with a metal flagpole because “at that moment, I had flashbacks of the struggle we had on the staircase.”
Webster is seen and heard on video shouting and swearing at uniformed officers on Jan. 6. The video then shows him swinging a metal pole and slamming it onto the bike racks being used to try to hold the crowd at bay. Officer Rathbun managed to pry the pole away, but video captured Webster pushing through the police line. He is seen attacking the officer and pulling at his facemask. During his trial in May, Mr. Webster testified that he was merely trying to protect himself from a "rogue cop," and his lawyer claims that he showed "restraint" that day.
But the jury saw video and convicted Webster on 6 counts — 4 of which include use of a deadly or dangerous weapon.
Included in his pre-sentencing submission is a mental evaluation by a psychiatrist, Dr. Shahla Gorovoy. She writes Webster attacked the officer in part as a result of childhood experiences and PTSD from 20 years as an NYPD officer. In addition to working in the Bronx, as an NYPD officer, the father of three had also served on a security detail out of City Hall.
According to her letter, Dr. Gorovoy says Mr. Webster spoke about one traumatic event during his time as an NYPD officer. He said he had endured a "violent struggle" with an armed robber in the Bronx who was trying to get his gun. Webster said he was injured in the incident and had to be taken to the hospital. She added, “Mr. Webster was able to connect the January 6 event to the incident he experienced” during the struggle with the robber by "trying to show the officer my hands so he knows I am not armed, or I won’t go for his gun; because I know as a police officer, your first fear is that the person may go for your gun.”
In the letter, Dr. Gorovoy added Mr. Webster now has regret and remorse, that he “wished he had stayed home that day” and now “understands violence is not acceptable.”
And it appears Webster blames leaders who called the crowd to the Capitol — without naming former President Trump by name.
"The fact remains that [Mr. Webster] and others were called to Washington, DC by an elected official. People like Mr. Webster were told lies, fed falsehood and told that our election was stolen when it clearly was not," his attorney James Monroe writes.
Webster’s attorney went on to add, “Defendant is no longer under any illusion that the 2020 election was stolen or that he was fighting for a just cause.”
More than 850 people have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, with hundreds more arrests yet to come. In excess of 350 defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the riot.
The first eight Jan. 6 defendants to face a jury trial — Guy Reffitt, Thomas Robertson, Dustin Thompson, Thomas Webster, Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, Anthony Robert Williams, Matthew Bledsoe, and Erik Herrera — were convicted on every count they faced. Several other defendants have been convicted by judges during bench trials, and just one defendant was fully acquitted.