Former US Capitol Police officer Michael Riley was found guilty of obstruction on Friday for deleting his own Facebook message telling another user to remove portions of a post that person made about entering the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
But the jury in Washington, DC, couldn’t reach a verdict on a second obstruction count Riley faced for suggesting to the Facebook friend that he take down parts of his post, a move that federal prosecutors had alleged hampered their criminal investigation.
The judge declared a mistrial on the second charge.
“Hey Jacob, I’m a Capitol Police officer who agrees with your political stance,” Riley wrote to Facebook friend, Jacob Hiles, on January 7, 2021. “Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to be charges. Just looking out!”
After deliberating across four days, jurors told reporters they quickly agreed to convict on the one count, but there was one juror who would not convict on the other count. The holdout wasn’t sure about what Riley was thinking when he messaged Hiles.
“We tried every argument to try to convince them otherwise,” one juror said. But they were unsuccessful.
Riley later deleted his message to Hiles – along with hundreds of other messages with him, according to prosecutors – but told the jury he wasn’t trying to hide evidence. Riley testified he was just embarrassed and mad when he learned Hiles had been talking to the FBI about them, and that he didn’t want the FBI to think they were “buddies.”
“You have to think of what officer Riley intended” when he messaged Hiles, Riley’s attorney Christopher Macchiaroli told the jury during closings arguments Tuesday, noting that in a Facebook post after the riot, Riley called the Capitol attack a “sickening day.”
Riley testified during the trial that he thought Hiles had been pushed into the Capitol and was not one of the people who had attacked officers or broke things inside the building, and that he was not trying to hide evidence of wrongdoing by Hiles.
Hiles pleaded guilty last year to unlawfully parading or demonstrating in the Capitol and was sentenced to two years of probation.
Riley also testified that he thought the FBI would have all of his messages and didn’t think he was deleting evidence because the messages to Hiles were on Facebook and “this stuff doesn’t disappear.”
Prosecutor Anne McNamara told the jury during closings that Riley “was trusted to protect the Capitol and those inside” but later “betrayed his oath” as an officer when he told Hiles to delete parts of the post.
McNamara also said Riley continued to message Hiles after learning from others that Hiles had gone into the Capitol and smoked inside.
“(He) still kept messaging with the known rioter,” McNamara said, arguing that Riley had not been duped by Hiles, as he previously claimed, and only deleted his messages after learning Hiles told the FBI the two had been talking.
Riley was on the Capitol Police force for 25 years and told the jury that members of his K-9 unit were first to respond to a suspicious package found at the Republican National Committee’s DC office on January 6, near the Capitol building.
The former officer faces up to 20 years behind bars, though sentencing guidelines would allow for a far lesser sentence.
This story has been updated with additional details.