WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. Capitol police officer who tried to assist a Virginia man avoid criminal charges for breaching the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, was sentenced Thursday for obstruction of justice, WJLA News reported.
Michael Angelo Riley, a 25-year law enforcement veteran, was on duty when the mob overwhelmed the Capitol in 2021. He received two years of probation and four months of home detention for his role in warning another man about the pending criminal investigation into the riot and advised him to scrub incriminating evidence from social media.
On Jan. 6, 2021, Riley was on duty. Among other things that day, he investigated a report of an explosive device at the Republican National Committee headquarters and also came to the aid of an injured officer, one of about 100 cops who sustained injuries that day. The next day he was apparently fueled with anger toward to mob, as he wrote in a social media post that federal charges should be filed against anybody who assaulted police, damaged property or breached the Capitol.
“If we don’t send a message it will surely happen again,” he noted on Facebook, according to WROP News.
However, within about two hours, Riley, 51, apparently softened as he read a Facebook post by Jacob Hiles, a fisherman he was familiar with from YouTube videos. Hiles wrote about his own participation in the days’ events and posted a video of rioters clashing with law enforcement personnel.
Riley, a resident of Maryland, sent Hiles a direct message identifying himself as a Capitol police officer who agreed with his “political stance.”
In the correspondence, Riley privately wrote, “Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to be charged. Just looking out!”
The two continued to exchange friendly messages until Hiles told Riley that the FBI was “very curious” about their communication.
“They took my phone and downloaded everything,” Hiles wrote.
In response, Riley deleted all of their private messages, prosecutors said.
Riley was hit with a two-count federal indictment charging obstruction of justice for advising his social media acquaintance to scrub incriminating evidence of his participation in the riots, Law Officer reported in October 2021.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Howland said in a court filing that Riley “fully understood the horrors of” the Jan. 6 attack.
“And yet, when the time came for (Riley) to hold the line, he sided with a known rioter, a person he had never met or spoken to, because of the rioter’s political views and because he happened to be a good fisherman,” Howland wrote.
Hiles pleaded guilty in September 2021 to a misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. He was sentenced in December 2021 to two years of probation and 60 hours of community service.
In October 2022, a jury convicted Riley of one count of obstruction, but deadlocked on the second, according to WJLA.
During Thursday’s sentencing, Riley described his actions as “stupid and reckless,” but said he didn’t think he was breaking the law, WROP reported.
“It certainly doesn’t excuse my lapse in judgment,” he said.
Riley’s voice expressed sorrow as his “awful judgment” cost him his career, tarnished his reputation, ended friendships in the department and created undo emotional duress with his family.
“The amount of regret and remorse I have over this situation is unimaginable,” Riley told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson before she imposed the sentence, which is four months of home confinement, two years of probation, a $10,000 fine and 150 hours of community service.
Prosecutors originally sought more than a two-year prison sentence for him.
Judge Jackson said Riley’s actions were “shocking conduct for any member of law enforcement.”
“You knew exactly how bad January 6th was,” she added.