A retired New York Police Department (NYPD) officer has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for assaulting an officer with a flagpole during last year’s attack on the United States Capitol, the longest sentence handed out so far in relation to the January 6 riot.
Thomas Webster, a 20-year veteran of the NYPD, was sentenced on Thursday after being found guilty in May of assaulting a Washington, DC police officer during the riot.
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US District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced the 56-year-old to 10 years in prison plus three years of supervised release, but allowed Webster to report to prison at a date to be determined instead of immediately ordering him into custody.
“Mr Webster, I don’t think you’re a bad person,” the judge said on Thursday. “I think you were caught up in a moment. But as you know, even getting caught up in a moment has consequences.”
About 250 people have been punished for participating in the riot at the Capitol, which saw a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters storm the building in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
In a court filing, prosecutors accused Webster of “disgracing a democracy”.
“Each individual attack on an officer at the West Plaza weakened the defensive line, fueled the crowd, and brought the rioters one step closer toward disrupting our democracy,” they wrote.
Webster was the first Capitol riot defendant to be tried on assault charges and argued that he had acted in self-defence against a “rogue cop” who had instigated the fight.
A jury rejected that claim and found that Webster had tackled Metropolitan Police Department officer Noah Rathbun and grabbed his gas mask outside the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Body camera footage showed Webster yelling at Rathbun and then slamming a bike rack at him.
In May, jurors convicted Webster of all six counts in his indictment, including a charge that he assaulted Rathbun with a dangerous weapon, the flagpole.
Federal prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of 17 years and six months, claiming that Webster had played an important role as the crowd charged police barricades at the Capitol’s Lower West Plaza.
Defence lawyer James Monroe argued that Webster was “swept up in the fervour of the large crowd” but did not join other rioters in entering the Capitol building.
Webster drove alone to Washington, DC, from his home near Goshen, New York, on the eve of the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, where Trump delivered an incendiary speech to thousands of supporters.
Webster was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a Marine Corps flag on a metal pole when he joined the crowd that stormed the Capitol.
Webster said he went to the Capitol to ask legislators to “relook” at the results of the 2020 presidential election but claimed that he did not intend to interfere with Congress’s efforts to certify Biden’s victory.
“I wish the horrible events of that day had never happened,” he told the judge on Thursday.
Mehta said Rathbun, the police officer, was not Webster’s only victim on January 6. “The other victim was democracy, and that is not something that can be taken lightly,” the judge added.