WASHINGTON (AP) – A U.S. Capitol Police officer has been charged with obstructing justice after prosecutors said he helped hide evidence of a rioter involvement in the insurrection of January 6.
Officer Michael A. Riley is accused of warning someone who participated in the riot by telling him to remove Facebook posts that showed the person inside the Capitol during the attack January 6, according to court documents.
Riley, 50, virtually appeared in federal court in Washington and was released on several conditions, including that he surrender his firearms and not travel outside the United States without a judge’s permission. He was ordered to return to court later this month.
Riley, who responded to a report of a homemade bomb on Jan.6 and has been a Capitol Police officer for about 25 years, had sent the person a message telling him he was a police officer who “is d ‘agree with your political position,’ indicates an indictment against him.
The indictment explains how Riley sent dozens of messages to the unidentified person, encouraging him to remove the incriminating photos and videos and telling him how the FBI was investigating to identify the rioters.
Riley’s attorney did not immediately respond to a reporter’s message seeking comment.
In a statement, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said the department learned of the Riley investigation several weeks ago and put him on administrative leave when he was arrested on Friday. Manger called the indictment a “very serious allegation” and said the department’s professional liability office was also opening an internal investigation.
His arrest and the charge that an active-duty Capitol Police officer was trying to obstruct the investigation into the attack is particularly notable as many of his colleagues were brutally beaten during the insurgency. The riot left dozens of bloodied and bruised police officers as mobs of pro-Trump rioters, some armed with pipes, bats and bear spray, charged into the Capitol, quickly overtaking the forces of overwhelmed police.
A policeman was repeatedly beaten and shocked with a stun gun until he had a heart attack; another was foaming at his mouth and screaming for help as rioters crushed him between two doors and hit him on the head with his own weapon.
More than 600 people are charged in the attack on January 6, in which a mob loyal to then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, fought police and tried to prevent certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
In the days following the attack, dozens of rioters posted their participation in social media posts that boasted of their ability to get inside the Capitol. But then many began to realize that it could be used as evidence and began to remove it.
A review of the Associated Press court records found that at least 49 defendants are accused of attempting to erase offending photos, videos and texts from phones or social media accounts documenting their conduct while the pro-Trump mob was storming Congress and briefly interrupting the Democrat’s certification. Joe Biden’s election victory.
Experts say efforts to clean up social media accounts reveal a desperate desire to manipulate the evidence once these people realize they are in hot water. They say it can serve as powerful proof of people’s guilt consciousness and can make it more difficult to negotiate plea agreements and leniency in sentencing.
Riley told the rioter that the scene was a “total s-show.” “I’m glad you made it out unscathed.” We have had over 50 officers injured, some quite seriously, ”the officer wrote, according to the complaint.
When the rioter said by message that he didn’t think he had done anything wrong, Riley responded, according to court documents: “The only thing I can see is if you walked in. building and they have proof that you will be charged. You could always tell you had nowhere to go, but that’s for the court.
Later in January, after the two discussed their love of fishing, Riley told the man to quit social media.
“They arrest dozens of people a day,” he wrote, according to the publication. “Everyone who was in the building. Engaged in acts of violence or destruction of property, they are all charged by the federal government with crimes.
Getting rid of digital content isn’t as easy as removing content from phones, deleting social media posts, or shutting down accounts. Investigators were able to retrieve the digital content by requesting it from social media companies, even after the accounts were closed. Posts posted to Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are retrievable for a period of time, and authorities routinely ask these companies to keep records until they obtain a court order to view the posts. .
Despite initial criticism that Capitol Police did not do enough to stop the rioters, Riley is the first Capitol cop to be charged with a crime involving the insurgency.
But several current and former police officers have been arrested on riot-related charges, including two Virginia police officers who posed for a photo in the attack. In July, authorities arrested an off-duty Drug Enforcement Administration agent accused of posing for photographs in which he showed his DEA badge and firearm outside the Capitol during riot.
Other law enforcement officers were investigated for their presence on Capitol Hill that day or at the Trump rally before the riot. In January, an Associated Press survey of nationwide law enforcement agencies found that at least 31 officers in 12 states are being screened by their supervisors for their behavior in the District of Columbia or face criminal charges for participating in the riot.
In September, Capitol Police said officials recommended disciplinary action in six cases after an internal review of officers’ behavior following the Jan.6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The department’s Professional Accountability Office had opened 38 internal investigations and was able to identify 26 of the officers involved, police said in a statement at the time. In 20 of the cases, no wrongdoing was found.
It is not clear if Riley was among the officers who were referred for disciplinary action.