Tue. May 17th, 2022
Police struggled to recall assaults after the ‘traumatic’ Capitol riot, a Metropolitan Police detective testified
  • A Metro Police detective testified that officers blocked out the “traumatic” events of the Capitol riot.
  • The testimony came in the trial of a retired New York cop charged with assaulting an MPD officer on January 6, 2021.
  • The accused ex-cop claims he assaulted the Metro police officer in self-defense.

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In the immediate aftermath of January 6, 2021, investigators observed a phenomenon: police officers who responded to the day’s violence at the Capitol could not always remember the assaults they suffered at the hands of a pro-Trump mob.

But as he reviewed hours of body-worn camera footage, Metropolitan Police Detective Jonathan Lauderdale could see everything — the shouts, the shoves, the punches, the profanity.

“Reviewing that over and over again was traumatic,” Lauderdale said Tuesday, recalling the “complete chaos” of January 6, 2021, at the latest jury trial connected to the Capitol siege.

“The amount of body-worn camera footage I reviewed … If I could forget that, I would,” he added.

Lauderdale took the stand on the first day of testimony in the trial of Thomas Webster, a retired New York City police officer and former Marine charged with attacking a Washington, DC, police officer on January 6, 2021.

The testimony underscored how video footage — recorded by police and, in some cases, accused Capitol rioters themselves — has played a critical role in the nearly 800 prosecutions stemming from the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Webster argued that he acted in self-defense after being struck in the face by Metropolitan Police Officer Noah Rathbun, whom Webster is accused of hitting with a flag pole — bearing the Marine Corps flag — and later tackling to the ground and choking.

A former Marine himself, Lauderdale testified Tuesday that he was not surprised that Rathbun could not initially remember his violent encounter with Webster outside the Capitol. Rathbun’s body-worn camera captured the moment on January 6, 2021, when Webster began shouting at him from across a bike fence, then slammed his flag pole against the metal barrier before charging at Rathbun.

Lauderdale on Tuesday testified that he reviewed the officer’s body-worn camera footage after Rathbun reported an injury suffered during an apparently related incident inside the Capitol rotunda on January 6. Asked whether he was surprised that Rathbun did not initially recall his encounter with Webster, Lauderdale said: “No, it didn’t seem strange.”

“It didn’t seem strange at all. It was understandable,” Lauderdale testified. Referring to officers who guarded the Capitol on January 6, he said, “Either they blocked it out or had no recollection” of violence they experienced.

With Lauderdale’s testimony, federal prosecutors sought to head off Webster’s argument that he acted in self-defense after being struck in the head by Rathbun. On Wednesday, Rathbun is expected to take the stand, and Webster’s defense lawyer is planning to display video footage showing Webster push the metal fencing into the police officer before being struck in the face.

—Ryan Barber (@cryanbarber) April 26, 2022

Prosecutors acknowledged Tuesday that Rathbun at one point struck Webster with an open hand, but in his testimony Tuesday, Lauderdale said the officer was “trying to create distance” after Webster pushed the bike rack into him.

Lauderdale said the camera footage showed Webster calling Rathbun a “piece of shit” before pushing the bike rack into him and slamming his flag pole multiple times into the metal barrier.

“He was clearly aggressive,” Lauderdale said, adding that he was impressed that Rathbun opted to show restraint by disarming Webster — taking away his flag pole — rather than using pepper spray or his baton.

Webster then breaches the metal barrier and “bullrushes” him with his fists raised, Lauderdale said, narrating the body-worn camera footage for the jurors.

Once on the ground, Webster tried to forcibly remove his helmet and facemask, prosecutors said. In an FBI interview, Rathbun said he was unable to breathe during the assault because Webster was choking him with his helmet’s chin strap.

Lauderdale on Tuesday testified that Webster was “actively choking” the Metro police officer.

“He was being choked out,” the detective testified. 

In an interview with the FBI, Webster characterized him grabbing of the police officer’s helmet and face mask as “a hockey type of move type thing where you don’t want to fight somebody.” Webster’s defense lawyer James Monroe advanced the self-defense argument in his questioning of Lauderdale, suggesting that Rathbun had made “hand gestures to invite Mr. Webster to fight with him.”

When the defense lawyer raised how Rathbun had not reported his altercation with Webster, Lauderdale reiterated that he did not find the oversight unusual.

“A lot of people forgot stuff due to the chaos there,” Lauderdale said.

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