Opening statements begin in Capitol riot trial for former Rocky Mount officer

The defense argues that the photo of Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker at the Capitol on Jan. 6 isn’t the full truth

Thomas Robertson faces multiple charges in connection with the Capitol Riots on Jan. 6, 2021.

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – With the jury assembled, the federal trial against the former Rocky Mount police officer charged for taking part in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots began.

It took the court a day and a half to seat 14 jurors: 11 women and three men.

Thomas Robertson was indicted on the following charges:

  • Obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting
  • Civil disorder and aiding and abetting
  • Entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds
  • Disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds
  • Disorderly conduct in a Capitol building
  • Obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting

Like so many others, Robertson admits to committing some crimes like entering restricted areas.

As a longtime police officer who knew the severity of his actions, federal prosecutors say Robertson broke the public’s trust when he recruited Jacob Fracker, the other former Rocky Mount officer charged for participating in the riot, to travel with him to Washington, D.C. Jan. 6. A neighbor of Robertson also joined the pair.

It was alleged that Robertson traveled to D.C. because he was upset with the 2020 election results.

Prosecutors say he packed a wooden stick, three gas masks, snacks, and his police badge and gun.

Once in D.C., the trio took the metro into the city to attend the scheduled rally. By the time he got to the U.S. Capitol, the riots had already begun.

Quickly, U.S. Capitol police officers were overwhelmed by a large number of rioters.

Around 2 p.m., prosecutors said Robertson committed his first two crimes: entering a restricted area by going on Capitol grounds and blocking D.C. Metro police officers from entering the Capitol to assist U.S. Capitol officers. Robertson is also charged with committing the latter crime with a weapon, the wooden stick.

Robertson entered the U.S. Capitol at 2:16 p.m., two minutes after Fracker. They both left around 2:38 p.m.

The prosecution says Robertson climbed through a window with his wooden stick, marched around the Capitol looking for Fracker, took a picture with him once they were reunited in the Crypt and left.

Prior to January 6, Robertson made several social media posts expressing his disapproval of and disagreements with the 2020 election results, prosecutors said during opening statements.

After January 6, he bragged about his actions online, they added.

“[Expletive] proud of it,” prosecutors say he said in one post.

“Two men willing to actually put skin in the game,” prosecutors say he described his and Fracker’s actions.

In opening statements, the government really took the time to explain Robertson’s relationship with Fracker. They say the two were so close Fracker would call Robertson “Dad.”

Fracker entered a plea agreement with the government earlier this year and will testify to what they did on Jan. 6 and what Roberston did after the day. Most notably, prosecutors will likely question Fracker about Robertson’s alleged efforts to destroy their cell phones, which brought about Robertson’s last charge.

The defense painted a much different picture for the jury.

They reference him as “TJ.”

They say TJ, like so many other Americans, wasn’t satisfied with the handling of the 2020 election results and was vocal about it on social media.

The “wooden stick,” the defense says, wasn’t a weapon at all. In fact, it was a walking stick meant to help the veteran who was wounded while in service in 2011. Robertson sustained leg injuries and was left with a limp, defense attorneys said during opening statements.

At some point during the chaos, Robertson was separated from Fracker, they added. He was helping the overwhelmed neighbor who traveled to D.C. with the two when Fracker proceeded to go inside the Capitol.

Robertson only went inside the U.S. Capitol, his attorneys say, to get his friend, Fracker. Once he found him, they took a selfie to show Fracker’s loved ones they were safe and left.

Their argument: Robertson entered, retrieved and departed.

Social media posts are not a true reflection of reality, which is why the defense says the jury should not take his posts too seriously. Everyone dramatizes and exaggerates online, they said.

As far as the destruction of evidence, with cell phones containing so much personal information these days anyone is free to rid their device at any time, the defense said.

If Robertson wanted to destroy evidence, he would have gotten rid of the walking stick, metro ticket, iPad and backpack which were not destroyed.

A captain with the U.S. Capitol police force testified about the stress of January 6 on his force. He also detailed their security plans.

Former Rocky Mount Town Manager C. James Ervin was also called to the stand Tuesday. He was asked about Robertson’s employment in the town.

The prosecution used his testimony to dispel Robertson’s use of a walking stick.

Despite his injury, he managed to pass a physical condition test for the Rocky Mount Police Department and gain employment, Ervin testified.

He also added when asked that the last time he saw Robertson in person (March/April 2021), he did not have a cane or walking stick.

Stay with 10 News as this story develops.

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About the Author:

McKinley Strother joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2020. He anchors 10 News at 6 and 11 on Saturdays and Sundays and you'll also catch him reporting during the week.