A Capitol Police officer has been charged with helping a Jan. 6 rioter attempt to obstruct justice by deleting incriminating social media posts, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
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In the two count indictment, prosecutors say the officer, Michael Riley, expressed support for the unnamed rioter’s political views and contacted him on Jan. 7 via Facebook direct message. Riley encouraged him to remove incriminating evidence that he was inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. The rioter, identified only as “person 1,” was subsequently arrested.
Riley, a 25-year veteran of the Capitol Police force, faces two counts of obstruction and is expected to appear in court Friday afternoon. He was on duty on Jan. 6 as part of a K-9 unit, but did not enter the Capitol building during the melee, according to the indictment. He was among the officers who responded to explosive devices placed near the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee offices.
“Obstruction of Justice is a very serious allegation. The Department was notified about this investigation several weeks ago,” said U.S. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger. “Upon his arrest, the officer was placed on administrative leave pending the completion of the case. The USCP’s Office of Professional Responsibility will then open an administrative investigation.”
In the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol, the U.S. Capitol Police revealed that three dozen officers had been investigated for potential misconduct, and six had been suspended. But most of the cases were ultimately deemed to be unsubstantiated.
But Riley’s arrest adds a new and troubling element to the ongoing probes of the Capitol Police response to the riot. Some Democrats had long suspected that some Capitol Police officers may have sympathized with the rioters, pointing to selfies some were seen taking as the crowd milled about the Capitol. But those charges had not been substantiated. Riley’s case is the first concrete example.
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The charging documents also suggest that the FBI was aware of the officer’s contact with “Person 1” in January. But Manger revealed that he didn’t learn about the case until recent weeks, and the officer continued to work in the department until his arrest.
According to prosecutors, Riley had never met the rioter he later communicated with but the two shared a love of fishing and were both in the same fishing-related Facebook groups. Riley, according to the indictment, viewed the alleged rioter’s Facebook posts attesting to being inside the Capitol and decided to make contact on Jan. 7.
“im a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance,” Riley wrote, according to the indictment. “Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to be charged. Just looking out!”
Prosecutors say the pair exchanged dozens of messages after that until the alleged rioter’s arrest on Jan. 19.
Riley subsequently deleted all of his contacts with “person 1” and sent a scolding message on Jan. 21 criticizing him for smoking inside the Capitol.
While Riley did note in a message to the unnamed riot suspect that the Capitol Police had “over 50 officers hurt, some pretty bad,” about 10 days after the riot, Riley invited the person to join him at his home in the future and to return to the Capitol, the indictment returned by a grand jury in Washington Thursday alleges.
“Next time you want to come to DC just call me, you can stay at my house on shore for free and bring your daughter to the museums,” Riley wrote, according to the indictment. “If you want to see the capitol building, lets do it legally next time….I know a guy who can get you a tour…lol.”
Despite the U.S. attorney’s decision not to name “Person 1,” the details of the case align closely with those of Jan. 6 defendant Jacob Hiles. Hiles was arrested on Jan. 19 and is a Virginia Beach-based boat captain who is known for a love of fishing. The statement of facts in his case notes that he smoked an “unidentified substance” inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. Hiles pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense related to his Jan. 6 conduct last month. He’s set to be sentenced in December.
Hiles’ attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.