WASHINGTON — A 25-year veteran of the U.S. Capitol Police force was indicted Thursday on two felony counts of obstruction for allegedly advising someone who entered the Capitol on January 6 to delete photos and posts showing their involvement in the riot.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment on two counts of obstruction for Capitol Police Officer Michael Angelo Riley. According to documents filed in D.C. District Court, Riley is a K-9 officer with Capitol Police who was not inside the building on January 6, but did respond to the pipe bombs found on the Capitol complex.
Investigators say in the indictment Riley accepted a Facebook request from someone he didn’t know on January 1. The individual is named only as “Person 1,” and according to the indictment, they had no prior relationship with Riley except for both being avid fishermen and members of fishing-related Facebook groups.
On January 7, a day after the Capitol riot, investigators say Riley sent Person 1 a message about “photos, videos and other commentary on Facebook admitting his presence and conduct inside the U.S. Capitol.” According to the indictment, this was the first time the two had communicated directly.
In his initial message, investigators say Riley wrote, “Hey [Person 1], im a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance. 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!”
Investigators say Riley and Person 1 then exchanged “dozens” more Facebook messages, including three videos Person 1 sent Riley showing him inside and outside of the Capitol.
“I get it… it was a total s*** show!” Riley allegedly responded. “Just wanted to give you a heads up… Im glad you got out of there unscathed We had over 50 officers hurt, some pretty bad.”
On January 16, Person 1 sent Riley another message linking to a news article stating he had been charged for his conduct, calling it “fake news.” The DOJ says Riley and Person 1 then communicated by phone for 23 minutes. Afterward, Person 1 sent text messages to two other people saying he had spoken to “Capitol Police” and that he was likely to only face trespassing charges.
Person 1 then sent Riley more messages about the charges against him, to which Riley responded by offering to let Person 1 and his daughter stay at his house next time he wanted to come to D.C.
“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,” Riley wrote. “Its behind you now… lesson learned! Just ask your attorney whats next.”
According to investigators, the two men continued to exchange friendly messages until January 20, when Person 1 told Riley the FBI was interested in their conversations.
“The fbi was very curious that I had been speaking to you if they haven’t already asked you about me they are gonna,” Person 1 wrote. “They took my phone and downloaded everything.”
Investigators say Riley responded, “That’s fine,” but on the same day deleted all of his direct messages to and from Person 1.
The following day, investigators say Riley sent Person 1 a message – 12 days after Person 1 himself had sent Riley a video of him smoking inside the Capitol – saying he’d been shown a video of him smoking marijuana in the building.
“I tried to defend you but then he showed me a video of you in the Capitol smoking weed and acting like a moron,” Riley wrote. “I have to say, i was shocked and dumbfounded, since your story of getting pushed in the building with no other choice now seems not only false but is a complete lie. I feel like a moron for believing you.”
Riley is the first Capitol Police officer charged with criminal conduct in connection to the Capitol riot. Following January 6, the Capitol Police Department announced investigations into the conduct of 35 officers during the riot. In September, the department said six would face discipline for wrongdoing. It was unclear whether Riley was one of those six.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger released a statement Friday following the announcement saying the department had been notified about the investigation several weeks prior.
“Obstruction of Justice is a very serious allegation,” Manger said. “The Department was notified about the investigation several weeks ago. 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.”
According to a post from February 2011, Riley was named the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Officer of the Month for saving a fellow officer’s life by providing CPR after he went into cardiac arrest following a head wound suffered from a fall on the ice.
Late Friday afternoon, Capitol Police Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou released a statement asking the public to wait "until all the facts are known" in the case.
“In this country, there is a presumption of innocence,” Papathanasiou said. “All I ask is that everyone respect the process and let it proceed before rendering a judgment on this officer."
Riley made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey on Friday afternoon. He was granted pretrial release under the condition that he check in weekly with pretrial services, advise them of any travel outside of his home district and not possess and firearms or destructive devices.
Riley is being represented by attorney David Benowitz, of the law firm Price Benowitz LLP.
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