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Prosecutors seek 8-year prison term for ex-Rocky Mount police officer in Capitol riot

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Federal prosecutors are seeking an 8-year prison sentence for a former Rocky Mount police officer, arguing that he abused his position of public trust when he joined a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Thomas “T.J.” Robertson, who was convicted by a jury in Washington D.C.’s federal court in April, is scheduled to be sentenced next Thursday.

“Instead of using his training and power to promote the public good, he attempted to overthrow the government,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Aloi and Risa Berkower wrote in sentencing memorandum filed late Thursday.

“Despite having held himself out as a public servant and a patriot, the defendant has demonstrated again and again that he believes himself to be fully above the law,” they said of Robertson, who was off-duty at the time of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

If U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper follows the government’s recommendation, the sentence would be the longest so far among the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.

A Texas man was recently sentenced to seven years and three months. That was two years more than the previously longest term given to people who participated in the riots, described by Aloi and Berkower as “a grave danger to our democracy.”

However, the seven years and three months in prison for Guy Reffitt was less than half the length of the 15-year prison term requested by federal prosecutors in that case.

Last week, Robertson wrote a letter to Cooper in which he said his “shameful” actions were the result of stress, drinking and being exposed to large amounts of news and social media reports of claims by former President Donald Trump of a “stolen election.”

Immediately before the Capitol was stormed, Robertson had attended a rally in which Trump urged a large crowd of supporters to “fight like hell.”

Defense attorneys have asked for a 15-month prison term for Robertson, who has been held without bond for the last 13 months.

In their 34-page sentencing memorandum, prosecutors laid out a number of elements that they say made Robertson’s conduct more egregious than that of other defendants sentenced to date on similar charges.

Among them: Robertson had a confrontation with law enforcement officers, he acted as a leader or motivator for others, he was armed with a large walking stick at the time of the riots, he destroyed cell phones thought to contain incriminating evidence against him, and he did not accept responsibility for his actions.

Testimony has shown that it was Robertson’s idea to attend Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, and that he recruited a fellow Rocky Mount police officer, Jacob Fracker, and a neighbor to ride with him to Washington D.C.

Before leaving, the U.S. Army veteran packed his car trunk with gas masks, military food rations, water and a walking stick that authorities say would later be used in a way that made it a “dangerous and deadly weapon.”

At about 2 p.m., Robertson and Fracker were part of an angry horde of Trump supporters that approached police as they were trying to keep the mob from advancing up the stairs of the Capitol’s Upper West Terrace.

Prosecutors say a gas-masked Robertson relied on his police and military training in the encounter, holding the stick across his chest in a “port arms” position, a tactical posture used to push others away.

Robertson’s stick struck two officers as they tried to move past him, the jury was told. Although he did not testify, Robertson later said in his letter to Cooper that any contact was incidental and unintentional.

He has also said that he used the walking stick as a cane after being wounded by enemy fire while working as a private contractor for the U.S. Defense Department in Afghanistan ten years ago.

However, some of what Robertson said about his military service was not true, prosecutors say. Official military records do not support his statement that he was a graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger school, they say, and his claim to a reporter of receiving a Purple Heart was a lie.

“The defendant has a track record of lying about his military service to his employer, his friends and to the news media,” the sentencing memorandum stated.

Aloi and Berkower also picked apart Robertson’s explanation for his actions on Jan. 6 and the vitriolic social media posts he made both before and after the uprising, which included statements that he was ready to join an “armed revolution.”

Robertson wrote in his letter to Cooper that he was influenced by the stress of several events, which included caring for an elderly friend and ardent Trump supporter who kept his television tuned nearly nonstop to channels that supported his views.

But the defendant’s inflammatory posts to Facebook actually began months before that happened, prosecutors say. Robertson also blamed his social media rhetoric on heavy drinking at the time.

“This too warrants scrutiny, as some of the posts appear to have been made while he was on duty as a police officer,” prosecutors said. Both Robertson and Fracker were fired from their Rocky Mount police jobs shortly after being charged in January 2021.

Robertson’s bond was later revoked after evidence showed that he possessed a M4 rifle and a partially assembled pipe bomb in his Ferrum house, and that he had ordered an “arsenal” of 34 firearms from internet dealers.

Those actions were prohibited by the terms of Robertson’s personal recognizance bond, and were cited by prosecutors as yet another reason why he should receive a lengthy sentence.

As of July 6, more than 850 people from across the country have been charged with participating in the riots.

About 340 have pleaded guilty or been convicted by juries, according to a tally kept by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Of those, 203 have been sentenced. Ninety-nine received prison terms, and another 67 were placed on home detention.

As for Robertson, his crimes “do significant damage to law enforcement,” the government stated in court records.

The insurrection “was an attack on the rule of law itself,” prosecutors wrote, and “it was abundantly clear — especially to someone with the defendant’s extensive military and law enforcement training and experience — that lawmakers, and the law enforcement officers who tried to protect them, were under siege.”

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