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Originally published on October 15, 2021 5:39 pm

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

An officer with the U.S. Capitol Police was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice today. Federal prosecutors say the officer tipped off a suspect from the January 6 Capitol riot and told the person to delete Facebook photos showing them inside the building. Tom Dreisbach from NPR's investigations team has more and joins us now. Hi, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: What can you tell us about what this officer allegedly did?

DREISBACH: Well, the officer is named Michael A. Riley. He's been with the Capitol Police for almost 25 years, most recently with the K-9 unit. Now, prosecutors in the indictment unsealed today say that at during the Capitol riot or just after, this officer saw someone on Facebook posting photos of themself inside the Capitol during the attack. And this person talked about being inside the building. Now, the indictment does not indicate that the officer passed this information to the FBI or his own agency. Instead, the officer allegedly tipped off this person and said, quote, "I'm a Capitol Police officer who agrees with your political stance." And the officer allegedly said this person should take down the photos and other posts. Now, Officer Riley and the suspect did not know each other, according to the court papers, but they did allegedly send dozens of messages back and forth. The suspect was arrested in January, and soon after, Riley allegedly deleted all of his Facebook messages on this.

MCCAMMON: And Tom, what can you tell us about these charges he's facing?

DREISBACH: He's facing two counts of obstruction of justice - one count for allegedly telling this Capitol riot suspect to hide evidence of their involvement, the other is for allegedly destroying the evidence of his own messages. He briefly appeared in court today, the officer. He will not be held in jail pending trial, though there are some restrictions on his travel and he can't possess any firearms.

MCCAMMON: What do the Capitol Police have to say about this?

DREISBACH: The chief of the Capitol Police released a statement to us. He said, quote, "obstruction of justice is a very serious allegation." The department notified - or was notified about the investigation several weeks ago, they said. Officer Riley is now on administrative leave while the case is ongoing, and that's standard procedure in these cases.

MCCAMMON: And what does this development mean in terms of the broader investigation into January 6?

DREISBACH: Yeah. I mean, we should note that more than 100 police officers total were injured during the Capitol riot. And members of Congress and the public have, you know, repeatedly praised the heroism of many of those officers. But even early on, there were questions about how some members of the Capitol Police handled themselves during the riot. The department ultimately did launch internal investigations into more than 20 members of the department. They recommended discipline against at least six for things like conduct unbecoming and improper remarks. But this case involving Officer Riley is definitely the most serious. It involves actual criminal charges, unlike the others.

MCCAMMON: Right, and since the riot, existing concerns about extremism among police and the military have only grown. Tom, what does this indictment tell us? Does it tell us anything new about that?

DREISBACH: Yeah, we've been talking about this for a while, and NPR's been tracking every single case connected to the riot. More than 80 defendants, we found, have ties to law enforcement or the military, so that has raised some real concerns. In this case, there's no allegation that Officer Riley was a member or had links to any kind of extremist group. But the indictment overall does suggest some sympathy he may have had for a person allegedly involved in this attack, which the FBI calls an act of domestic terrorism. So it'll definitely add to the broader concern nationwide.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Tom Dreisbach, thank you.

DREISBACH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.