WASHINGTON (AP) – A US Capitol Police officer has been charged with obstruction of justice after prosecutors said he helped conceal evidence of rioters’ involvement in the January 6 uprising.
According to court documents, the officer, Michael A. Riley is accused of asking anyone participating in the riot to remove from Facebook posts that featured the person inside the Capitol during the January 6 attacks.
Riley, 50, appeared virtually in federal court in Washington and was released with several conditions, including that he surrenders any firearms and does not travel outside the US without a judge’s permission. He was ordered to return to court later this month.
Riley, who responded to reports of a pipe bomb on January 6 and was a Capitol police officer for nearly 25 years, sent a message to the man saying he was a police force officer who “agree with your political “Stance,” says an indictment against him.
The indictment describes how Riley sent dozens of messages to the unidentified man, encouraging him to remove the offensive photos and videos, and telling him how the FBI was investigating to identify the rioters.
Riley’s attorney did not immediately respond to a message from a reporter seeking comment.
US Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger said in a statement that the department learned of the investigation against Riley several weeks ago and was placed on administrative leave when he was arrested on Friday. Manger called the indictment a “very serious allegation” and said the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility was also launching an internal investigation.
His arrest and allegation that an active duty Capitol police officer was trying to obstruct an investigation into the attack is particularly notable as several of his associates were brutally beaten in the rebellion. The riot left dozens of police officers covered in blood and wounded as a crowd of pro-Trump rioters, some armed with pipes, bats and bear spray, charged into the Capitol, quickly outnumbering the overwhelmed police force.
One officer was repeatedly beaten with stun guns and jolted until he suffered a heart attack; Another was foaming from his mouth and shouting for help as the rioters crushed him between two doors and hit him on the head with their own weapon.
More than 600 people faced charges in the January 6 attack, in which mobs loyal to then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, fought police and tried to prevent authentication of an election victory for President Joe Biden. Of.
In the days following the attack, scores of rioters pretended to be involved in social media posts bragging about their ability to get inside the Capitol. But then many people realized that it could be used as evidence and started removing it.
An Associated Press review of court records has found that at least 49 defendants are accused of trying to delete offensive photos, videos and text from phone or social media accounts documenting their conduct as Trump supporters. The mob stormed Congress and briefly blocked the certification of the Democrats. Joe Biden’s election victory.
Experts say that efforts to scavenge social media accounts show these people have a desperate desire to manipulate evidence when they learn they are in hot water. They say it can serve as powerful evidence of people’s sense of guilt and make it harder to negotiate plea deals and seek leniency on sentencing.
Riley told Riot that the scene was a “total s-show”. “I am glad that you came out unscathed. We injured over 50 officers, some very bad,” the officer wrote as per the complaint.
When the rioter said via message that he didn’t think he had done anything wrong, according to court papers, Riley replied: “The only thing I can see is that if you went into the building and If they have proof then you will be charged. You can always make it clear that you have nowhere to go, but that’s up to the court.”
Later in January, when the two discussed their love of fishing, Riley told the man to go off social media.
“They are arresting dozens of people a day,” he wrote, according to the posting. “Everyone who was in the building. Engaging in violent acts or destruction of property and are all federally charged with felony. “
Making digital content disappear is not as simple as deleting content from a phone, deleting social media posts, or closing accounts. Investigators have been able to retrieve digital content by requesting social media companies even after the accounts were closed. Posts made on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are recoverable for a certain period of time, and officials regularly ask those companies to preserve records until a court order allows them to view the posts. See you
Despite initial criticism that Capitol police did not do enough to stop the rioters, Riley is the first Capitol police officer to be charged with a crime related to the rebellion.
But several current and former police officers were arrested on riot-related charges, including two Virginia police officers who posed for a photo during the attack. In July, officers arrested an off-duty Drug Enforcement Administration agent for posing for photographs in which he showed his DEA badge and firearm outside the Capitol during a riot.
Other law enforcement officers were investigated for their presence at the Capitol or at Trump’s rally before the riots that day. In January, an Associated Press survey of law enforcement agencies nationwide found that at least 31 officers in 12 states are being investigated by their supervisors for their behavior in the District of Columbia or criminal charges for participating in a riot. facing.
In September, Capitol Police said officers had recommended disciplinary action in six cases after an internal review of officer behavior stemming from the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Police said in a statement at the time that the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility had opened 38 internal investigations and was able to identify 26 officers involved. No abnormalities were found in 20 cases.
It is not clear whether Riley was among the officers sent for disciplinary action.
Associated Press writers Jacques Billaud in Phoenix and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, MD, contributed to this report.