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Former Capitol cop who messaged Jan. 6 rioter guilty in obstruction case

Michael Riley told jurors he was "embarrassed" that he had messaged a Jan. 6 rioter on Facebook, warning them about a post that said they went into the Capitol building.
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WASHINGTON — A former Capitol Police officer who warned a Jan. 6 defendant about a post that said he was inside the Capitol building was found guilty on one count of felony obstruction of justice by a jury on Friday.

Michael Riley was indicted in October 2021 on two counts of obstruction of justice and resigned from the Capitol Police force shortly thereafter. At his trial this month, federal prosecutors argued that Riley "betrayed" his oath by sending Jan. 6 defendant Jacob Hiles a Facebook message, warning that the FBI and law enforcement were planning to charge everyone who entered the building.

“[I’]m a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance,” Riley wrote in a message he later deleted after Hiles’ arrest. “Take down the part about being in the building they are correctly investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to be charged. Just looking out!”

Michael Riley
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Michael Riley poses outside of headquarters after he was selected Officer of the Month for February 2011 by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

The jury was not able to reach a verdict on the first count, which related to the message he sent to the rioter. But they did find him guilty of a second count for deleting his messages with Hiles after he found out Hiles had been talking to the FBI.

One juror, speaking anonymously after the verdict, told reporters that there was a single holdout on the jury who would not convict Riley on both counts. It was 11-1 for a guilty verdict on the first count, the juror said, and they could not break the tie.

“We tried every argument to try to convince them otherwise,” the juror said. Jurors had previously sent a note to the judge referring to that juror as "the deadlock."

Jacob Hiles, indicated by the red circle, at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Jacob Hiles, circled in red, at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Dept. of Justice

The jury had been deliberating since Tuesday afternoon, by far the lengthiest deliberations of any Jan. 6-related jury trial. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in Washington, D.C., declared a mistrial on the first obstruction count, and it isn't clear whether federal prosecutors will seek to try Riley again on that count given that two convictions wouldn't make much difference at sentencing.

Taking the stand in his own defense Monday, Riley told jurors he was "embarrassed" by the messages he sent to Hiles, but insisted that he did not intend to obstruct a grand jury proceeding.

“I was embarrassed because I had reached out to him in the first place and allowed myself to get in a position like this,” Riley told jurors in court on Monday. “I never intended for any of this to happen.”

Defense attorney Christopher Macchiaroli argued during his closing on Tuesday that jurors may feel that Riley should have done something differently and reported Hiles, but said the case "is not about failure to report" but whether Riley intentionally obstructed a grand jury proceeding.

"I said this was a complex case. It is," Macchiaroli argued. "It is not easy, you will have doubts in this case. They will be reasonable. Follow them."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Dohrmann argued that Riley's intentions were clear, that he knew the FBI was involved in the "massive investigation" into Jan. 6 and he knew that the FBI uses federal grand juries.

"The only thing you need to do ... is apply your common sense," Dohrmann argued.

“He was thinking, how do I get this rioter, my Facebook friend, from being caught up in this grand jury investigation," Dohrmann argued.

Riley, a former K-9 officer with the Capitol Police, was one of the first officers to respond to the Republican National Committee building near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 after someone left a pipe bomb there, along with a bomb at the Democratic National Committee down the street.

Later that night, Riley and his dog helped sweep the Capitol building so that Congress could return into their joint session and certify President Joe Biden's victory over former President Donald Trump.