Webster is the first Jan. 6 defendant to present a claim of self-defense to a jury. On the first day of the trial, Monroe leaned into the narrative that the police officer involved, first identified in court as Officer Noah Rathbun – he was referred to as “NR” in court documents – was not only to blame for the encounter, but he also failed to tell investigators afterwards, casting doubt on his credibility.
“This case is built on the lies of a young Metropolitan Police Department officer,” Monroe told the jury.
Webster is the sixth person charged in connection with Jan. 6 to stand trial and the fourth defendant to face a jury; the other two cases were trials before a judge. At the first three jury trials, the defendants were found guilty on all counts. So far, jurors have not been swayed by defense theories that the government potentially fabricated evidence, in the case of Guy Reffitt, convicted of bringing a handgun to the Capitol; that a defendant entered the building to look for his friend, in the case of Thomas Robertson; and that a defendant was following orders from former President Donald Trump, in the case of Dustin Thompson.
A retired New York Police Department officer and US Marine Corps veteran, Webster faces a six-count indictment, including felony charges for assaulting Rathbun with a weapon – a mast. flag, in his case — that he was illegally in a restricted area with a weapon where a Secret Service protege was present — former Vice President Mike Pence — and that he interfered with police during a a civil disorder. The assault charge is the most serious charge, carrying up to 20 years in prison, but the weapon element also increases the potential jail time of several other charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hava Mirell, who gave the government’s opening statement, agreed that the officer made contact with Webster’s face, but told the jury it was incidental and part of Rathbun’s effort to use his hand to create distance between Webster and himself.
Webster is not accused of entering the Capitol during the Jan. 6 breach, but Mirrell drew a line between his alleged interference with police trying to hold back crowds outside and disrupting the ‘peaceful transfer of power” that took place inside. She called him at least twice “the rage-filled defendant” and said the fact that he wore a bulletproof vest showed that “he was ready for battle”. After Webster knocked Rathbun to the ground, she said, he tried to remove the officer’s gas mask and helmet and that during the altercation the chin strap of the officer’s helmet snapped. stuck in his neck, choking him.
The vigilante account is one that U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta expressed skepticism about last year. Webster had been kept in jail in the months since his February 2021 arrest, and Mehta in June granted Webster’s request to return home to await trial. Webster’s attorney raised the punch theory at the time, and Mehta said after watching body camera footage, it appeared the officer had ‘modestly’ reached out to push Webster away. .
“I see no evidence, none, that he was punched in the face, Mr. Webster. I don’t see it,” Mehta said at the time, according to a transcript.
Monroe’s opening presentation focused on his client’s military and law enforcement background, his lack of prior arrests, and the fact that Webster did not enter the building and has not been charged with any other acts of violence or destruction of property. He said Webster took the Marine Corps flag from his home with him to Washington and wore a body armor issued to him by the New York Police Department for protection.
When Webster arrived on the Capitol grounds, he saw “civilians” who had been injured and walked to the front of the police line to find out what was going on, according to Monroe. He suggested Webster’s decision to swing the mast at the officer and push him to the ground was an exercise in ‘restraint’ after being punched in the face – that he did these things to avoid being again struck.
Body camera footage recorded Webster yelling at officers as he arrived in front of the line of bike racks: “Holy shit. You motherfucker. Are you going to attack the Americans? No fucking that. [unintelligble] Fucking coco fuck. Come on, get high. Take your shit off. You communist motherfuckers. Kiss my ass.
The jury heard from Jonathan Lauderdale, a detective with the Metropolitan Police Department who was part of a task force investigating assaults on police at the Capitol on January 6. Lauderdale said he was tasked with investigating a report Rathbun filed about a hand injury he was assaulted inside the Capitol rotunda and saw the incident Webster was accused of when he viewed Rathbun’s body camera footage; Rathbun had not filed an injury report about it. Lauderdale testified that when he spoke with Rathbun, the officer initially did not recall the alleged altercation with Webster outside.
Assistant United States Attorney Brian Kelly asked if it was surprising that an officer could not recall an assault. Lauderdale said no. Considering all the footage he had seen, he said, “If I could forget that, I would. He later testified that many officers forgot things that happened because of the “chaos.”
Lauderdale defended Rathbun’s handling of the situation, saying he gave the officer credit for showing “restraint” and not using any weapons against Webster, instead disarming him from the mast and standing withdrawing. Lauderdale said that when he initially viewed the body camera footage, he did not see the part where Rathbun made contact with Webster’s face; it wouldn’t have changed his investigation, however, he said, since Webster was aggressive and Rathbun used his hand to create distance. He rebuffed Monroe’s suggestion during cross-examination that Rathbun violated the police department’s use-of-force policies.
The prosecutor tried to ask Lauderdale, who had previously served in the Marine Corps, how the events of January 6 and his work on assault investigations made him feel as a police officer and a veteran, but the judge upheld Webster’s attorney’s objections to this. series of questions.
Other government witnesses on Tuesday included U.S. Capitol Police officers and a U.S. Secret Service official who offered more general testimony about the events of Jan. 6, such as the location of security perimeters around the grounds, what what Congress was doing that day in regards to gathering to certify the results of the 2020 election, and how the Secret Service works with Capitol Police when visiting a beneficiary like the Vice President.
United States Capitol Police Officer Joanna Berger, who was in the field on January 6 and was captured at some point in body camera footage at issue in the Webster case, described the situation as “dangerous” and “frightening” when the mob raped the police. line and there were threats all around them. She said she was afraid to take off her helmet to put on her gas mask because people in the crowd were throwing objects at police; she was hit on the head with a wooden board, she said.
Rathbun is expected to testify later in the week.
It took Mehta a day to sit a jury for Webster’s trial. Before the jury was called Tuesday morning, he rebuffed a new challenge from Monroe to hold the trial in DC. In some cases, defense attorneys have argued that the Democratic-leaning makeup of the townspeople and their exposure to media coverage of Jan. 6 tainted the jury against the defendants in those cases.
So far, judges have refused to move trials out of town; the bar is usually extremely high for judges to agree to transfer cases out of the jurisdiction where the alleged crime took place. Mehta pointed out on Tuesday that not only was he able to sit a jury for Webster’s case, but a relatively small proportion of potential jurors were immediately hit because they had a connection to the events of Jan. 6 or had expressed that they couldn’t judge the case fairly due to their strong beliefs about what happened.
So far, nearly all potential jurors selected to hear the Jan. 6 cases have expressed at least some knowledge of the attack on the Capitol, but have described widely varying degrees of knowledge; most said they had a generally negative view of what happened, but often said they could set them aside to judge whether an individual was guilty of committing specific crimes that day .
Potential jurors who were not selected for Webster’s trial included a reporter who said he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and witnessed violence; a woman who declined to identify the federal agency she worked for but said she came into contact with the FBI; a man who works for the Government Accountability Office – an agency that does research for Congress – and whose former mother-in-law is a Congressman (he did not identify her beyond saying she served in the room); and a lawyer who spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor, including in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington.