WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A trial kicked off on Tuesday for a veteran of the New York Police Department accused of assaulting a police officer during the Jan. 6, 2021, violence at the U.S. Capitol, in the latest test for prosecutors trying to add to a streak of convictions.
At the trial’s opening, jurors saw video footage showing Thomas Webster, 56, striking a police officer with a flagpole before tackling the officer to the ground.
“This is a case about a former officer violently attacking a fellow officer,” prosecutor Hava Mirell told jurors, adding that Webster was “rage-filled” when he taunted and attacked the overwhelmed officer.
Webster’s defense lawyer, showing the incident from another camera angle, told jurors that the officer “instigated” the incident by punching Webster in the face.
The officer “started the whole thing — that’s the truth,” the defense lawyer, James E. Monroe, told the jury.
Of the four Capitol riot defendants to face trial so far, Webster is the first to argue he was acting in self-defense.
According to court filings, Webster served in the Marine Corps before spending about 20 years with the New York Police Department.
Webster drove to Washington on Jan. 5, 2021, stayed at a hotel overnight, and then attended former President Donald Trump’s political rally in front of The White House on Jan. 6.
Along with thousands of other Trump supporters, Webster walked over to the Capitol building, where lawmakers were certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.
He was arrested in February 2021 and allowed release from jail while he awaited trial.
About 800 people face criminal charges relating to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, which disrupted a joint sessions of the U.S. Congress and sent lawmakers into hiding. There have been about 250 guilty pleas so far.
Prosecutors have obtained convictions in all three jury trials so far, but have had a mixed record in non-jury trials.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; editing by Andy Sullivan, Alexandra Hudson)