Former police officer faces jury trial on 6 January 2021 US Capitol riot charges
Over a year ago, two off-duty police officers from a small town in Virginia were charged with storming the US Capitol together. A trial for one of them starts this week. The other could be a key prosecution witness.
The trial of former Rocky Mount police officer Thomas Robertson will be the third among hundreds of people charged in the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol. The first two trials both ended with convictions, although one of those defendants was acquitted of a disorderly conduct charge.
Jury selection for Robertson's trial is scheduled to start on Monday in Washington, DC. One of his former colleagues, Jacob Fracker, was scheduled to join him on trial. Instead, Fracker reached a plea deal and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities.
Fracker pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding, the joint session of Congress that convened on 6 January to certify President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Robertson is charged with six counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, civil disorder, entering and remaining in a restricted building and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building.
Robertson and Fracker both served as police officers in Rocky Mount, a town about 25 miles south of Roanoke with roughly 5,000 residents. The town fired both of them after their arrests.
Other former police officers are among the hundreds of people charged with joining the mob that stormed the Capitol riot.
Tam Dinh Pham, an off-duty Houston police officer on 6 January, was sentenced in December to 45 days imprisonment after pleading guilty to a riot-related misdemeanor. A trial is scheduled to start on 25 April for Thomas Webster, a retired New York City police officer charged with assaulting an officer at the Capitol. Former North Miami Beach police officer Nicholes Lentz, who also pleaded guilty to a riot-related misdemeanor, is scheduled to be sentenced on 10 May.
Robertson and Fracker drove with a neighbour to Washington on the morning of 6 January. A court filing in Fracker’s case says Robertson brought three gas masks for them to use. After listening to speeches near the Washington Monument, Fracker, Robertson and the neighbour walked toward the Capitol, donned the gas masks and joined the growing mob, the filing says.
Robertson was carrying a large wooden stick and used it to impede Metropolitan Police Department officers who arrived to help Capitol police officers hold off the mob, according to prosecutors. Robertson was photographed in the Capitol’s crypt making an obscene gesture in front of a statute of John Stark, an American general during the Revolutionary War, prosecutors said.
After the riot, Robertson posted a string of Facebook messages that were "illustrative of a sincere commitment to violence," prosecutors said. In an 8 January post, Robertson wrote: "Being nice, polite, writing letters and sending emails hasn’t worked."
"All thats [sic] left is violence and YOU and your 'Friends on the other side of the isle' have pushed Americans into that corner. The picture of Senators cowering on the floor with genuine fear on their faces is the most American thing I have seen in my life," he wrote, according to prosecutors.
A Capitol police officer told Robertson he could enter the building but shouldn't go into any "restrictive areas", defence attorney Mark Rollins said in a court filing last year. Robertson was inside the Capitol for only 10 minutes and didn't assault anybody or break anything, Rollins said.
Robertson was arrested a week after the riot and initially released from custody. But he has been jailed since US District Judge Christopher Cooper ruled in July that he violated the terms of his pretrial release by possessing firearms.
Robertson ordered 34 guns before 29 June, when FBI agents searched his home in Ferrum, Virginia. The judge rejected the former officer's suggestion that the firearms simply were World War II collectibles.
Robertson served in the US Army before working as a police officer in Vinton, Virginia, according to Rollins. Robertson rejoined the Army in 2001 and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was wounded by gunshot and mortar shrapnel in 2011. Robertson underwent 10 surgeries before returning to the Rocky Mount Police Department and becoming a sergeant, according to his lawyer.
One year on from the Capitol riots, white supremacists are still the biggest risk to US democracy— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) January 7, 2022
✍ @richardsudan https://t.co/HBKLXcxoIf
"He is a proud veteran with a love for his Country," Rollins wrote.
Robertson's trial will be the first for somebody accused of entering the Capitol building during the riot.
In the first Capitol riot trial, a jury convicted a Texas man of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun. Guy Wesley Reffitt also was convicted on 8 March of obstructing Congress’ joint session to certify the Electoral College vote, interfering with police officers who were guarding the Capitol and threatening his two teenage children if they reported him to law enforcement.
In the second trial, a judge convicted Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin, an elected official in New Mexico, of illegally entering restricted US Capitol grounds. But the judge, who heard testimony without a jury, also acquitted Griffin of engaging in disorderly conduct.
Reffitt and Griffin entered restricted areas outside the Capitol but not the building itself.
Another Capitol riot trial is scheduled to start on Tuesday for Matthew Martin, a federal contractor who held a top-secret security clearance while working for a defence contracting company at the National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The same judge who convicted Griffin is set to decide Martin's case.