At least 31 law enforcement officers in 12 states are being investigated after being linked in some way to the attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, according to an Associated Press review. Nine of the law enforcement officers are from a Pennsylvania police department; three are Los Angeles police officers; and one is a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy. An Oklahoma sheriff and New Hampshire police chief also admitted to attending the rally in which former President Donald Trump incited the riot, but the law enforcement officials denied entering the Capitol that day, according to the AP.
The news agency posed this question in its analysis: “How does a department balance an officer’s free speech rights with the blow to public trust that comes from the attendance of law enforcement at an event with far-right militants and white nationalists who went on to assault the seat of American democracy?” I would argue, it shouldn’t.
No officer of the law should find answering or even passively observing a call to treason acceptable; and make no mistake about it, Trump was promoting treason. He called for his supporters to march to the Capitol to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen,” he said at the Save America rally before the riot at the Capitol. “You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about.”
Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a Case Western Reserve University School of Law professor, told the AP an officer’s presence at such a demonstration with “individuals who proudly profess racist and divisive viewpoints” poses a “credibility issue,” especially after the high-profile police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were both unarmed when they died in police encounters. “It calls into question whether those officers are interested in engaging in policing in a way that builds trust and legitimacy in all communities, including communities of color,” Hardaway said.
Virginia Sgt. Thomas Robertson and Officer Jacob Fracker face federal criminal charges related to posting a photo of themselves in the Capitol building during the riot. Robertson reportedly wrote on social media that the “Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem … The right IN ONE DAY took the f(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) U.S. Capitol. Keep poking us.”
Robertson and Fracker are still employed by the Rocky Mount Police Department, although suspended without pay Friday, Rocky Mountain officials said in a statement. “We are fully aware of the serious nature of the information contained in the federal arrest warrants and are continuing to assist with federal agents as they investigate this matter,” officials said in the statement. “The Town of Rocky Mount and Rocky Mount Police Department are adhering to a strict and thorough review process and is prepared to conclude our investigation into this matter early next week and will release an update at that time.”
In an earlier statement, the town’s police chief Ken Criner, Capt. Mark Lovern and town manager James Ervin said the police department “takes this matter very seriously.” “We stand with and add our support to those who have denounced the violence and illegal activity that took place that day. Our Town and our Police Department absolutely does not condone illegal or unethical behavior by anyone, including our officers and staff,” the officials said in the statement. “To the families of those whose lives were taken too soon, and all those shaken by the events over the past week, we are mourning with you and actively working to do our part in helping federal investigators do their jobs.”
Robertson and Fracker each face one count of knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building without lawful authority and violently entering or committing disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick died responding to the riot. He was hit with a fire extinguisher, the New York Times reported. More than a dozen other police officers were injured; three people died in medical emergencies; and one rioter was shot and killed when she attempted to breach the Capitol.
Malik Aziz, the former executive director of the National Black Police Association, told the AP “knowingly going to a bigoted event should be disqualifying for an officer.” “There’s no place in law enforcement for that individual,” Aziz said.
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