Army vet and ex-cop face jury trial on capitol riot charges
More than a year ago, two off-duty police officers from a small town in Virginia were charged with storming the United States Capitol together. One is heading to trial and faced a courtroom full of potential jurors on Monday. The other could be a key prosecution witness.
The federal trial of former Rocky Mount police officer Thomas Robertson will be the third among hundreds of people charged in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. The first two trials both ended in convictions, although one of those defendants was acquitted of a disorderly conduct charge.
Jury selection in Robertson’s trial began Monday in Washington, D.C. One of his former colleagues, Jacob Fracker, was scheduled to join him at the trial. Instead, Fracker entered into a plea deal and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities.
Fracker pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to obstruct official proceedings, the joint session of Congress held Jan. 6 to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory. He is listed as a potential trial witness.
Robertson is charged with six counts, including obstruction of official process, civil disturbance, entering and staying in a restricted building, and disorderly conduct in a capitol building.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper said he hoped to complete jury selection on Monday and finish with trial testimony this week, but he told members of the jury pool that the trial could stretch until See you next week. The judge asked potential jurors whether they had direct or indirect ties to the events of January 6 and whether they could set aside any strong political beliefs to be fair and impartial.
Both Robertson and Fracker served as police officers in Rocky Mount, a town about 25 miles south of Roanoke with about 5,000 residents. The city fired them both after their arrest.
Other former police officers are among hundreds charged with joining the mob that stormed the Capitol.
Tam Dinh Pham, a Houston police officer on leave Jan. 6, was sentenced in December to 45 days in jail after pleading guilty to a riot-related misdemeanor. A trial is due to begin April 25 for Thomas Webster, a retired New York police officer accused of 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 May 10.
Robertson and Fracker drove with a neighbor to Washington on the morning of January 6. 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 neighbor headed to the Capitol, donned the gas masks and joined the growing crowd, the filing said.
Robertson carried a large wooden baton and used it to impede Metropolitan Police Department officers who arrived to help Capitol Police officers hold off the crowd, prosecutors say. Robertson was photographed in the Capitol crypt making an obscene gesture in front of a statue of John Stark, an American Revolutionary War general, prosecutors said.
After the riot, Robertson posted a series of Facebook posts that “exemplify a sincere commitment to violence,” prosecutors said. In a Jan. 8 post, Robertson wrote, “Being nice, polite, writing letters and sending emails didn’t work.”
“All that’s left is the violence and YOU and your ‘friends across the island’ have pushed the Americans into this corner. The image of senators curled up 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 should not enter “restricted areas,” defense attorney Mark Rollins said in a court filing the year last. Robertson stayed inside the Capitol for only 10 minutes and did not assault anyone or break anything, Rollins said.
Robertson was arrested a week after the riot and initially released. But he has been jailed since Cooper ruled in July that he violated the terms of his firearms bail.
Robertson ordered 34 guns before June 29, when FBI agents searched his home in Ferrum, Virginia. The judge rejected the former officer’s suggestion that the guns were simply World War II collectibles.
Robertson served in the US military before working as a police officer in Vinton, Va., according to Rollins. Robertson joined the military in 2001 and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was injured by gunshot and mortar shrapnel in 2011. Robertson underwent 10 surgeries before returning to the Rocky Mount Police Department and to become a sergeant, according to his lawyer.
“He is a proud veteran who loves his country,” Rollins wrote.
Robertson’s trial will be the first for someone 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 was also convicted March 8 of obstructing the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote, interfering with police officers guarding the Capitol, and threatening his two teenage boys if they reported him to law enforcement.
In the second trial, a judge convicted the Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin, an elected official from New Mexico, of illegally trespassing on the restricted grounds of the United States Capitol. But the judge, who heard evidence 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 set to begin Tuesday for Matthew Martin, a federal contractor who held a top-secret security clearance while working for a defense contractor at the National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. The same judge who convicted Griffin is set to decide Martin’s case.