WASHINGTON (AP) — An off-duty Virginia police officer who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan, 6, 2021, with a fellow officer was sentenced Thursday to more than seven years in prison, matching the longest prison sentence so far among hundreds of Capitol riot cases.
Former Rocky Mount Police Sgt. Thomas Robertson declined to address the court before U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper sentenced him to seven years and three months in prison. Cooper also sentenced Robertson to three years of supervised release after his prison term.
Robertson gets credit for the 13 months he has already spent in custody. Robertson has been jailed since Cooper ruled last year that he violated the terms of his pretrial release by possessing firearms.
The judge said he was troubled by Robertson's conduct since his arrest — not only his stockpiling of guns but also his words advocating for violence. After Jan. 6, Robertson told a friend that he was prepared to fight and die in a civil war and he clung to baseless conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen from then-President Donald Trump, the judge noted.
Sentencing guidelines calculated by Cooper recommended a prison term ranging from seven years and three months to nine years.
“It's a long time because it reflects the seriousness of the offenses that you were convicted of,” the judge said.
In April, a jury convicted Robertson of attacking the Capitol to obstruct Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory. Jurors found Robertson guilty of all six counts in his indictment, including charges that he interfered with police officers at the Capitol and that he entered a restricted area with a dangerous weapon, a large wooden stick.
Robertson’s lawyers said the Army veteran was using the stick to help him walk because he has a limp from getting shot in the right thigh while working as a private contractor for the Defense Department in Afghanistan in 2011.
The judge said he agreed with jurors that Robertson went to the Capitol to interfere with the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. Robertson was an “active and willing participant,” not “some bystander” who got swept up in the crowd, Cooper said.
Robertson traveled to Washington on that morning with another off-duty Rocky Mount police officer, Jacob Fracker, and a third man, a neighbor who wasn't charged in the case.
Fracker was scheduled to be tried alongside Robertson before he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in March and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. Cooper is scheduled to sentence Fracker next Tuesday.
Prosecutors have asked Cooper to spare Fracker from a prison term and sentence him to six months of probation along with a period of home detention or “community confinement.” They said Fracker's “fulsome” cooperation and trial testimony was crucial in securing convictions against Robertson.
Robertson's lawyer, Mark Rollins, sought a prison sentence below two years and three months. He questioned the fairness of the wide gap in sentences that prosecutors recommended for Robertson and Fracker given their similar conduct.
Robertson served his country and community with distinction, his lawyer told the judge.
“His life already is in shambles,” Rollins said.
Robertson and Fracker were among several current or former law enforcement officers who joined in the riot. Prosecutors say Robertson used his law enforcement and military training to block police officers who were trying to hold off the advancing mob.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi said Robertson was prepared for violence when he went to the Capitol and did a “victory lap” inside the building, where he posed for a selfie with Fracker.
“The defendant is, by all accounts, proud of his conduct on Jan. 6,” she said.
Jurors saw some of Robertson’s posts on social media before and after the riot. In a Facebook post on Nov. 7, 2020, Robertson said “being disenfranchised by fraud is my hard line.”
“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,” he wrote.
In a letter addressed to the judge, Robertson said he took full responsibility for his actions on Jan. 6 and “any poor decisions I made.” He blamed the vitriolic content of his social media posts on a mix of stress, alcohol abuse and “submersion in deep ‘rabbit holes’ of election conspiracy theory.”
“I sat around at night drinking too much and reacting to articles and sites given to me by Facebook” algorithms, he wrote.
The town fired Robertson and Fracker after the riot. Rocky Mount is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Roanoke, Virginia, and has about 5,000 residents.
Roughly 850 people have been charged with federal crimes for their conduct on Jan. 6. More than 350 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor offenses, and more than 230 have been sentenced so far.
Robertson’s jury trial was the second for a Capitol riot case; Reffitt’s was the first. Jurors have unanimously convicted seven Capitol rioters of all charges in their respective indictments.
For full coverage of the Jan. 6 hearings, go to https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege
Michael Kunzelman, The Associated Press