Rioters clash with police and security forces during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. | Brent Stirton/Getty Images
A charter boat captain who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 became a crucial grand jury witness who helped the Justice Department charge a Capitol Police officer for seeking to obstruct the investigation into the attack.
Jacob Hiles, who pleaded guilty to his role in the Capitol riot, testified to a grand jury in October, just before two charges of obstruction of justice were leveled against Capitol Police officer Michael Riley, a 25-year veteran of the force. Riley resigned late last month.
Prosecutors say Riley — who didn’t know Hiles but shared an interest in fishing — sent Hiles Facebook messages urging him to delete incriminating posts about entering the Capitol. But Hiles never deleted the posts, prosecutors say, and instead the Justice Department used them to charge Riley for his attempted obstruction.
“Absent Hiles’ forthrightness, both in preserving records of communications by him and Riley, and in addressing sensitive inquiries from law enforcement, prosecution of Riley — a now-former U.S. Capitol Police Officer — may not have been possible,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Dohrmann wrote in a Monday court filing, recommending a sentence of probation for Hiles.
Hiles is an exception among the nearly 700 defendants charged for their roles in the Capitol attack. The Justice Department said his cooperation was helpful not only in charging Riley but in identifying another rioter, Hiles’ cousin James Horning. And Hiles turned himself in to the FBI within two weeks of the Capitol attack, expressing contrition for his actions. He also is not accused of any violence or property destruction.
“In other words, rather than seeking to evade justice, the defendant in this case consistently displayed candor and contrition in his dealings with law enforcement related to this case and assisted in the due administration of justice,” Dohrmann wrote.
Prosecutors have repeatedly emphasized that most defendants charged in the Capitol attack should face sentences that include jail terms, a reflection of what they describe as a grave assault on American democracy. Even low-level defendants, they say, helped enable the more violent member of the mob to overwhelm and evade police.
According to prosecutors, Riley viewed Hiles' Facebook posts attesting to being inside the Capitol and decided to make contact on Jan. 7.
“im a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance,” Riley wrote, according to the indictment. “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!”
Prosecutors say the pair exchanged dozens of messages after that until Hiles’ arrest on Jan. 19.
Riley subsequently deleted all of his contacts with Hiles and sent a scolding message on Jan. 21 criticizing him for smoking inside the Capitol.
While Riley did note in a message to the unnamed riot suspect that the Capitol Police had “over 50 officers hurt, some pretty bad,” about 10 days after the riot, Riley invited Hiles to join him at his home in the future and to return to the Capitol, the indictment returned by a grand jury in Washington Thursday alleges.
“Next time you want to come to DC just call me, you can stay at my house on shore for free and bring your daughter to the museums,” Riley wrote, according to the indictment. “If you want to see the capitol building, lets do it legally next time….I know a guy who can get you a tour...lol.”
In Hiles’ sentencing memo, his attorney says that on short notice on Aug. 2, Hiles “voluntarily and candidly participated in a Zoom interview with two FBI Agents and two Assistant U.S. Attorneys for the District of Columbia regarding the government’s case against Officer Riley.”
“On or about October 7, 2021, Mr. Hiles took more time off work and left his home in Virginia Beach around 4:00 a.m. in order to testify at 10:00 a.m. in the District of Columbia for the government in the grand jury proceeding regarding Officer Riley.”