Former Police Officer Sentenced to Over 7 Years in Prison in Jan. 6 Capitol Breach

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
August 12USshare
Former Police Officer Sentenced to Over 7 Years in Prison in Jan. 6 Capitol Breach
Police hold back people as they gather outside the U.S. Capitol's Rotunda, in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

An off-duty former Virginia police officer who entered the U.S. Capitol with a fellow officer on Jan. 6, 2021, has been sentenced to over seven years in prison, a period similar to the longest prison sentence yet in cases related to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol breach.

On Jan. 6, 2021, proceedings at the U.S. Capitol for a joint session of Congress to count and certify electoral votes for the 2020 presidential election were temporarily interrupted when a sizable group of protesters and rioters entered the building and its surrounds. Thousands of other protesters, mostly peaceful, remained outside.

Thomas Robertson, 49, a former police sergeant with the Rocky Mount, Virginia, Police Department, declined to address the court in Washington on Aug. 11, before U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper sentenced him to seven years and three months.

Robertson also faces three years of supervised release after his prison term. He also must pay $2,000 in restitution.

He gets credit for the 13 months he has already spent in custody; Robertson was initially released after he was arrested and charged in January 2021, but he was rearrested in July 2021 after Cooper ruled that he violated the terms of his pre-trial release by possessing firearms.

Specifically, the judge found that Robertson violated court orders and continued to purchase what prosecutors described as an “arsenal” of guns online. FBI agents also found a loaded M4 rifle and a partially assembled pipe bomb at his home during a search.

Cooper said he was troubled by Robertson’s conduct since his arrest in January 2021—not only his stockpiling of guns but also his words. The judge noted that after Jan. 6, Robertson told a friend that he was prepared to fight and die in a civil war.

Federal prosecutors had recommended eight years for Robertson, while his defense attorney had asked for a sentence of no more than 15 months.

Lengthiest Sentence in Jan. 6 Cases

The Justice Department noted that more than 860 people have been arrested “for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol” since Jan. 6, 2021. This includes over 260 people who have been charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.

Robertson’s sentence of 87 months is the lengthiest prison sentence yet in cases related to the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol, and is on par with that of Guy Reffitt, a 49-year-old Texas man who entered the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 while armed with a gun.

A jury in April this year had convicted Robertson of five felony charges: obstruction of an official proceeding, civil disorder, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds while carrying a dangerous weapon, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building while carrying a dangerous weapon, and tampering with a document or proceedings. Robertson was also found guilty of a misdemeanor offense—disorderly conduct in a Capitol building.

“Robertson carried a large wooden stick and confronted members of the Metropolitan Police Department, who had arrived to provide back-up to U.S. Capitol Police officers who were defending the West Front of the Capitol from the mob,” the Justice Department said, citing court documents.

Prosecutors argued that Robertson “anticipated violence” on Jan. 6, and he packed gas masks for himself and Jacob Fracker, as well as military food rations, water, and a large wooden stick.

Robertson “used his law enforcement training to block Metropolitan Police Officers attempting to hold back the mob,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi wrote in the government’s sentencing memo.

Robertson’s lawyers said that the army veteran was using the stick—deemed a dangerous weapon by federal authorities—to help him walk because he has a limp after being shot in the right thigh while working as a private contractor for the Defense Department in Afghanistan in 2011.

Fellow Officer Pleaded Guilty

Another off-duty officer with the Rocky Mount, Virginia, Police Department—Jacob Fracker, 30—was with Robertson on Jan. 6, 2021. Fracker was scheduled to be tried alongside Robertson, but in March 2021, Fracker decided to plead guilty to a federal conspiracy charge and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 16.

Prosecutors have asked Cooper to spare Fracker from a prison term and instead sentence him to six months probation along with a period of home detention. They said Fracker’s “fulsome” cooperation and trial testimony was crucial in securing convictions against Robertson.

Court documents say that Robertson and Fracker headed for Washington in Robertson’s car on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021. A third man, a neighbor who was not charged in the case, was also with them.

After arriving in Washington, Robertson and Fracker attended a rally in the Washington Monument area and later “joined an advancing mob of rioters” at the Lower West Terrace of the Capitol building, the Justice Department said.

The off-duty officers separately entered the Capitol building around 2:15 p.m. within minutes of each other, convening inside the Capitol’s Crypt where they took a selfie of themselves. The two men continued to use their mobile phones to document their activity throughout the day.

Both men were arrested on Jan. 13, 2021.

“Prior to their arrests, federal law enforcement officers called them, informed them of their arrest warrants, and ordered them to turn themselves in later in the day,” the Justice Department said. But Robertson destroyed Fracker’s phone and his own phone after learning of the criminal charges related to this conduct at the Capitol, the department noted.

In a letter to the judge, Robertson said that Fracker actually destroyed the cell phones, and later lied to the FBI and the court about it. Robertson also said that he never had “any intention to disrupt Congress.”

He told the judge that he takes “full responsibility” for his actions on Jan. 6, and “any poor decisions” he made. He also noted that the content of his social media posts before and after Jan. 6 were due to a mix of stress, alcohol abuse, and “submersion in deep ‘rabbit holes’ of election conspiracy theory.”

In a Facebook post on Nov. 7, 2020, Robertson said that “being disenfranchised by fraud is my hard line.” He also wrote: “I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting a counter insurgency. [I’m] about to become part of one, and a very effective one.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.