WASHINGTON — A 25-year veteran of the US Capitol Police was indicted this week on charges that he attempted to obstruct the investigation into the Jan. 6 riots by contacting a rioter and urging him to take down his social media posts from the scene.
Michael Riley, who works in the Capitol Police’s K-9 unit, is the first member of the Capitol Police to face criminal charges in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection and its aftermath. He wasn’t on duty at the Capitol when the building was breached, but had responded to reports of an explosive nearby earlier in the day and was aware of the “violence and strife” that unfolded when a mob of former president Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the complex, according to the indictment unsealed on Friday.
The rioter whom Riley contacted isn’t identified in court papers, but prosecutors said it was someone who went into the Capitol. Riley had friended the person on Facebook five days before the riots — prosecutors say the two men didn’t know each other but were both “avid fishermen and members of fishing-related Facebook groups.” The person had posted photos, videos, and comments on Facebook about his participation in the riots, and Riley allegedly messaged him on Jan. 7 to warn him to remove that content.
“Hey [Person I], im a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance,” Riley wrote, according to the government. “Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to charged. Just looking out!"
Riley was arrested on Friday and made a brief initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge by video later in the day. The prosecutor didn't oppose allowing Riley to go home while his case is pending; he'll be required to check in regularly with court staff, is barred from having any guns, can't travel without giving the court advance notice — and needs a judge's approval to travel internationally — and will be prohibited from contacting certain people the government will identify.
Riley was placed on paid administrative leave after his arrest, according to a statement from Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger; that is the agency's standard practice for employees under investigation.
“Obstruction of Justice is a very serious allegation. The Department was notified about this 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," Manger said.
Riley and the unnamed rioter exchanged dozens of messages in the days that followed, including discussing the likelihood that the man would face criminal charges for going inside the Capitol; they also spoke on the phone, per the indictment. Another person had messaged Riley about the rioter smoking an “unknown substance” in the building, and Riley responded that he knew about that, prosecutors said. Riley allegedly told the rioter that if he wanted to visit DC again, he could stay at Riley’s home.
“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. Its behind you now...lesson learned! Just ask your attorney whats next,” Riley wrote, according to the indictment.
The unnamed rioter was arrested on Jan. 19 and alerted Riley the next day that he’d talked to the FBI about their communications. Riley replied, “That’s fine,” and the same day deleted all of the Facebook messages they had exchanged, according to the government. On Jan. 21, prosecutors alleged that Riley then sent a new message to the unnamed rioter saying he’d deleted their messages because he learned about a video of the person smoking weed in the Capitol and was angry and felt “like a moron for believing you.”
A federal grand jury in Washington indicted Riley on two felony counts of obstruction — one for allegedly directing the unnamed rioter to delete their Facebook posts, and one for allegedly deleting his own messages.
Riley is set to make his first appearance in federal district court in Washington, DC, on Friday afternoon.
This is a developing story. Follow BuzzFeed News for updates.