WASHINGTON — A jury convicted a former U.S. Capitol Police officer Friday of one felony count of obstruction for deleting hundreds of messages between him and a Capitol rioter, but deadlocked on a second obstruction count.
Jurors deliberated for more than 18 hours across four days this week before returning their verdict convicting Michael Angelo Riley of obstructing a grand jury. Riley was a 26-year veteran of USCP before retiring from the force last year and is, to date, the only member of law enforcement on duty Jan. 6 to be charged in connection with the riot.
Riley was one of thousands of law enforcement officers who responded to Capitol on Jan. 6. During trial, jurors heard he was in fact the first officer to arrive on scene after pipe bombs were discovered at the RNC and DNC offices. Nevertheless, prosecutors argued, a day later he began communicating with a rioter he’d never previously met and warned him to take down part of a Facebook post.
Riley was convicted Friday on count two of the indictment against him, which alleged he obstructed a grand jury by deleting weeks of communications between himself and Jacob Hiles, a Chesapeake, Virginia, sport fisherman who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6. The first count of the indictment, which jurors could not reach consensus on, alleged Riley further obstructed the grand jury by sending Hiles a private message a day after the riot advising him to alter a Facebook post.
On Jan. 7, 2021, Riley sent a direct message to Hiles, who he’d friended just days earlier over their mutual interest in sportfishing, about a Facebook post Hiles had made describing his role in the riot — which included, he said, entering the building. Riley advised him to remove that part of the post.
“Hey Jacob, I’m a Capitol Police officer who agrees with your political stance,” Riley wrote in the message. “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 said Riley, who’d worked in law enforcement for more than two decades, knew a grand jury would be empaneled to investigate the attack on the Capitol and that anyone who went inside – as Hiles’ post claimed he’d done – would be a likely subject of that investigation. During the trial, jurors saw a post Riley made on his own Facebook page on Jan. 6 calling for anyone who'd entered the building or joined in the violence or property damage to be charged.
Assistant U.S. attorney Mary Lyle Dohrmann told jurors Riley had taken an oath to uphold justice that he had not lived up to.
“On Jan. 7, 2021 – the day after the attack on the Capitol – the defendant betrayed that oath,” she said.
Although Hiles was interviewed by the FBI in the weeks after the riot and ultimately arrested on Jan. 19, 2021, correspondence between the two men continued until Jan. 21, when Riley – having deleted all their prior communications the night before – sent Hiles a final message saying he didn’t think Hiles had been honest in how he’s first described being “pushed” into the Capitol. Prosecutors said that was evidence Riley was covering his tracks. But Riley’s attorney, Christopher Macchiaroli, said the officer wasn’t trying to hide anything because he knew Hiles had already been reported to the FBI as early as Jan. 9 and investigators had a full copy of Hiles’ phone following his arrest.
Hiles pleaded guilty in September 2021 to a petty misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building and was sentenced to 24 months of probation.
Over three days of deliberations, jurors sent multiple notes to U.S. District Judge Amy B. Jackson about their inability to come to a consensus on one of the counts. On Friday, they delivered their verdict on the second count in the indictment — agreeing with prosecutors that Riley's decision to delete all of his communications and send a final message disavowing Hiles amounted to an attempt to obstruct a grand jury — but said they were hopelessly deadlocked on the remaining count.
"We have reached a deadlock that we feel confident will not shift or alter," the jury's foreman wrote in a note Friday.
As a result, Jackson granted Macchiaroli's request to declare a mistrial on the first obstruction count. She also said she would hold his motion to acquit him of the second count until both parties had time to brief her on the issue.
Friday was the first mistrial in a Capitol riot case and the first time a jury had failed to return a unanimous guilty verdict on all charges — although defendants had previously been acquitted of charges in bench trials before other judges. After the verdict was read, a juror told reporters outside of the federal courthouse the jury quickly reached a verdict on the second obstruction count, but got stuck 11-1 on the first count and ultimately decided it would never be able to reach a consensus. According to the juror, who declined to give their name, the holdout felt they couldn't be sure of Riley's state of mind or intent on Jan. 7 given the traumatic day he'd just experienced and the fact that the grand jury was not empaneled until the following day.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Riley could face a base recommended sentencing range of 15-21 months in prison, although prosecutors may seek a three-level enhancement for obstruction of the administration of justice as they have in other Capitol riot cases. If the judge agreed to apply the enhancement, it could increase Riley’s recommended sentencing range to 27-33 months in prison. Prosecutors did not indicate whether they intended to retry the remaining obstruction count.
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