Former Capitol Police officer guilty of interference with Jan. 6 probe

Charge related to the deletion of messages exchanged with a man who later pleaded guilty to demonstrating in the Capitol

Former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley poses for a picture outside of headquarters on D St., NE.  (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)
Former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley poses for a picture outside of headquarters on D St., NE. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 28, 2022 at 2:59pm

A federal jury convicted a former Capitol Police officer Friday on one of two charges that he interfered with the grand jury investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol related to the deletion of Facebook information.

The jury in Washington returned a guilty verdict on a felony charge against Michael A. Riley, a 25-year veteran of the force. Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia declared a mistrial on another, similar felony count after the jury deliberated for more than three days.

Prosecutors argued on the first count that Riley advised Capitol rioter Jacob Hiles to take down a public Facebook post where Hiles said he had entered the Capitol during the attack. They argued on the second count that Riley deleted hundreds of messages between the two once Hiles said he had told the FBI about their communications.

The jury deadlocked on the first count and found Riley guilty of the second count. Jackson is still considering a motion for judgment of acquittal, which Riley's attorneys may submit a filing on next week.

The conviction carries a potential prison sentence. Jackson allowed Riley to remain out of custody on bail and did not immediately set a date for sentencing. Riley was not present in the courtroom for the verdict because of a medical procedure. His attorney declined to comment after the verdict.

Riley was the first Capitol Police officer to be charged in connection with the sprawling federal probe after the attack. Prosecutors did not state whether they would seek a second trial on the first count.

A federal prosecutor, Anne McNamara, argued to the jury that Riley’s long experience as a police officer meant he knew the actions he took were wrong, including deleting his messages.

“Timing is so damning here. He acted after he knew the same investigation focused on Hiles was now focused on him,” McNamara said during closing arguments.

Sprawling probe

More than 880 people have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the Capitol, in what is one of the largest federal investigations in history, the Justice Department said this week.

A mob inspired by then-President Donald Trump broke into the building and attacked and injured multiple officers, ultimately interrupting Congress’ counting of the Electoral College votes from the presidential race.

Prosecutors returned an indictment for Riley in October 2021 that said he initiated contact with Hiles the day after the Capitol attack. The two men had not communicated before.

But both were avid fishermen and members of fishing-related Facebook groups, and Riley wrote to say he was a Capitol police officer “who agrees with your political stance,” the original indictment states.

“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 wrote in that initial message.

Hiles was arrested in January 2021, and Riley deleted all his messages with him the next day, prosecutors said. Hiles eventually pleaded guilty to a single count of misdemeanor demonstrating in the Capitol and was sentenced to two years of probation, $500 in restitution and assigned 60 hours of community service.

Riley’s attorney, Christopher Macchiaroli, during closing arguments argued in part that the deleted messages with Hiles were not about the attack, so that would not have obstructed a grand jury probe into the attack.

“The grand jury proceeding is about the January 6 Capitol breach, not Officer Riley’s messages about fishing,” Macchiaroli said.

Riley testified in his own defense, arguing that Hiles’ initial Facebook post did not seem to indicate a grand jury would be involved. “Nothing in his post about being pushed into the building would indicate there would be a grand jury proceeding related to anything he had done,” Riley said.

Riley testified that the post, to him, “did not seem like he meant to go in the building,” Riley said.

On the scene

Riley was one of the first officers to respond to the bomb found outside the Republican National Committee building on Jan. 6, 2021. Riley, who was a K-9 officer at the time with a dog trained to find explosives, later searched cars around the building.

After responding to the RNC, Riley went to the Dirksen Senate Office Building to help treat one of the Capitol Police officers injured in the attack.

Over the next 13 days, Riley and Hiles exchanged hundreds of messages, and Hiles eventually told Riley he had mentioned their communications to the FBI, according to prosecutors. Riley then deleted the messages between the two and said he would not speak with Hiles anymore.

Riley also said he did not see other videos of Hiles inside the Capitol building, such as smoking marijuana in the Capitol, until after sending the initial message that Hiles should take his post down.