A retired New York Police Department officer and former U.S. Marine from Orange County was deemed a danger to the community and ordered held without bail Tuesday after his arrest on charges that he attacked a police officer during the Capitol attack in early January.
Thomas Webster, 54, who runs a landscaping business in Florida, N.Y., will remain jailed after surrendering to the FBI and in White Plains federal court, where Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Gianforti said video footage at the Jan. 6 events showed Webster “clear as day” attacking a police officer.
Webster’s lawyer, James Monroe of Goshen, said his client will plead not guilty to charges including assaulting or resisting officers with a dangerous weapon, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, among other charges.
Gianforti said federal sentencing guidelines would recommend a prison term of at least five years in prison if Webster chose not to go to trial and pleaded guilty to the charges. If convicted at trial, the recommended prison term would be much higher, he said.
The prosecutor said in court that Webster used an aluminum pole that had carried a U.S. Marines Corps flag against an unidentified District of Columbia police officer on Jan. 6 in an attack captured on multiple video feeds, including bodycam footage from the officer, Twitter and YouTube.
According to the court complaint filed in D.C. District Court, as the attack began, Webster shouted obscenities at and called a “Commie” the officer who had been dispatched to assist U.S. Capitol Police officers with protecting the Capitol grounds and building.
‘A look of pure rage’
“We see the defendant clear as day ... attacking a police officer, first with that aluminum pole that I mentioned, and then with his bare hands,” the prosecutor said in court. “You can see him ripping the officer’s protective gear off, the gas mask or the helmet that he was wearing at the time, which ... caused the police officer to choke. It cut off his air at least for a short period of time,” he said.
Gianforti said the videos also show “a look of pure rage on the defendant’s face. His teeth are gritted. This is a man who is about to unleash some kind of violence on somebody and, in fact, he did on that poor police officer,” the prosecutor said.
Gianforti said Webster admitted carrying a gun to Washington but claimed he didn’t bring it to the Capitol attack. Then prosecutor said authorities have “every reason” to believe Webster was armed.
Finally, the statement of facts accompanying the complaint says that a YouTube video depicts Webster on the staircase leading to the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol Building saying into the camera “Send more patriots. We need some help.”
Webster also appears to be wearing a dark blue or black body armor vest over his torso, the statement says.
Attorney: Webster was punched by the officer
Monroe, though, described his client in court as a father of three children who never fired a shot during a 20-year police career.
He said Webster was participating in first-ever protest and only engaged with the officer after he was punched by him.
But Gianforti said a review of video footage in the 10 minutes before Webster’s attack did not show Webster being punched.
He dismissed the claim as self-serving and “likely fabricated.”
Magistrate: the video was ‘disturbing’
In ordering detention for Webster, U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew E. Krause said it appeared from bodycam footage that Webster came “running up” to the officer just before the attack began. He said he saw no evidence Webster was punched.
Krause praised the right to free speech, but said “what we see in this video ... goes well beyond First Amendment speech and moves into criminal activity.”
He called it “disturbing.”
Webster’s next court appearance is March 3.
How the FBI identified the suspect
The government based its probable cause for Webster’s arrest on several facts.
The FBI used the images it had collected of the man with the flagpole to send out a BOLO (“Be On The Lookout.”).
It also reviewed a passport application photo and a Facebook page posted by Webster’s family.
A license reader took a photo of a license on a car registered to Webster on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway early on the morning of Jan. 5.
Finally, an administrator of the high school attended by Webster’s children was shown two of the photos and positively identified him.
The complaint and statement of facts filed in D.C. District Court is available at https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/case-multi-defendant/file/1369976/download
Correspondent Jeff Storey contributed to this story.