- The Indian American judge said he has watched the video of the incident repeatedly, “and I still remain shocked every single time I see it.”
An Indian American federal judge has sentenced to 10 years in prison a retired New York City police officer who was convicted of several felonies during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The sentence issued by U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta to Thomas Webster is the longest yet in a case related to the insurrection.
No one should be “gleeful” that Webster was facing 17.5 years in federal prison, Mehta said during the Sept. 1 sentencing, as rerouted by MSNBC. “What you did that day, it is hard to really put into words.” Mehta has watched the video of the incident repeatedly, “and I still remain shocked every single time I see it.”
The Washington Post noted that Mehta said Webster was “the first aggressor” in his confrontation with D.C. police officer Noah Rathbun, and that “all hell broke loose” when Webster showed up at that part of the police line. The crowd then flowed to the Capitol, and “you were part of that, and not a small part,” the judge said, according to Politico. “That context matters.”
He described Webster’s assault “as one of the most haunting and shocking images from that violent day.” Politico noted that “images of Webster attempting to rip the gas mask off of Rathbun’s face amid broader chaos at the Capitol are among the most indelible images to emerge from the Jan. 6 attack.” Noting that “any violence toward a police officer would be bad enough, that the assault occurred as part of a mob attack meant to disrupt the transfer of presidential power added weight to the crime.”
Mehta continued: “This happened in the context of something bigger. It happened in the context of…one of the darkest days in the history of our country,” he said. “We simply cannot have a country,” he said, “in which people who are on the losing side of an election think you can use violence and physical force to undo that result. We cannot function as a country if people think they can behave violently when they lose an election.”
Mehta also told Webster that he wished he “hadn’t come to Washington D.C. I do wish you had stayed home in New York, that you had not come out to the Capitol that day. Because all of us would be far better off. Not just you, your family, country. We’d all be far better off. Yet here we are.”
Additionally, the judge expressed incredulity on his testimony at the trial. “There is no doubt in my mind that your conception of what had happened that day and as you described it was utterly fanciful and incredible,” Mehta said, according to Politico.
However, he admitted that he “was troubled that federal guidelines added more than six years to the possible sentencing range for Webster because he had worn body armor to the riot, in addition to enhancements for using a dangerous weapon and attacking a government official. And the judge noted that others convicted of assaulting police had received terms ranging from six to 63 months. Mehta also credited Webster’s late acceptance of responsibility.”
Webster was “the first person charged in connection with the riot to defend himself before a jury with a self-defense argument,” The Post said. “He was convicted in May of all of the felony charges he faced, including assault.”
The Gujarat-born Judge Mehta was appointed by President Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in December 2014, becoming the first Asia Pacific American appointment there. Early in his tenure on the federal bench, he made waves with a case in which the Federal Trade Commission was seeking to block the proposed merger of the nation’s two largest food distributors, Sysco Corp. and US Foods.
This February, he issued a ruling rejecting Trump’s claim of “absolute immunity” from the lawsuits, which has resulted in the advancing of multiple lawsuits seeking to hold him accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection. In a 112-page opinion issued on Feb. 18, Mehta analyzed the former president’s 75-minute speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021, and outlined how the former president could conceivably be responsible for inciting the attack that followed.
Mehta made history in October 2021 when he ruled that a former Afghan militant was being held unlawfully at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, making it the first time in 10 years that a detainee won such a case against the U.S. government. Mehta entered a final order and two classified opinions in the case of Asadullah Haroon Gul, who was captured in 2007 by Afghan forces. He was later turned over to the U.S. and remains one of the last 39 detainees at the prison in Cuba.
Mehta began his career in a San Francisco law firm before clerking in the Ninth Circuit Court. From there, he went on to work at the Washington DC-based law firm, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP where he focused on white-collar criminal cases, complex business disputes and appellate advocacy.
He immigrated to the U.S. at age one, with his parents, Priyavadan Mehta, an engineer and Ragini Mehta, a lab technician. He was raised outside of Baltimore, Maryland. He earned his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in 1993 and graduated from the University of Virginia’s law school in 1997.