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2 Rocky Mount police officers who were in Capitol during riot face federal charges

2 Rocky Mount police officers who were in Capitol during riot face federal charges

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Federal authorities have charged two Rocky Mount Police Department officers who were inside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riots.

A federal arrest warrant unsealed Wednesday charges officer Jacob Fracker, 29, and Sgt. Thomas “T.J.” Robertson, 47, with a misdemeanor of knowingly entering a restricted building without authority to do so and knowingly engaging in conduct that disrupts government business. The warrant also charges Robertson and Fracker with the petty offense of engaging in disruptive conduct in the Capitol in order to interfere with a session of Congress.

Robertson and Fracker appeared via Zoom at a federal court hearing Wednesday afternoon in Roanoke.

Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou described the charges and ordered the two men released on $15,000 unsecured bonds. Court papers said they were arrested Wednesday.

Robertson and Fracker are arranging for attorneys, but that process was incomplete Wednesday. They did not enter pleas.

They were ordered to stay away from any public assembly, demonstration or protest until the case is resolved. Ballou said he imposed the restriction because the complaint arose from a public assembly that ended in physical violence, property damage and personal injury, and given news reports about the potential for more protests that might occur in the District of Columbia or elsewhere. The judge cited the fact that both are police officers and military veterans in declining a prosecution request to affix GPS tracking devices on them.

The judge forbade the men from possessing firearms during the case but said they could seek relief from that order if it became an issue.

The penalty for the misdemeanor is up to a year in jail; the penalty for the petty offense is up to six months.

The next virtual court hearing was scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The criminal complaint cites social media comments the officers made on Facebook as supporting evidence.

In interviews with The Roanoke Times, Robertson has maintained he and Fracker did nothing illegal.

In a selfie that Fracker took inside the Capitol, the men are standing in front of a statue of John Stark, a Revolutionary War officer from New Hampshire who is famed for having penned that state’s motto, “Live free or die.” Fracker is making an obscene gesture. Robertson is pointing at Fracker while holding a wooden object. Robertson wrote Wednesday that he was holding the pole of an American flag.

According to Robertson, Capitol Police allowed the two men into the building, served them bottled water and told them to stay within cordoned areas, which they did. He said he and Fracker neither saw nor participated in any violence.

In one comment included as evidence in the complaint, Robertson wrote that he was “f------ PROUD” of the photo. “If you are too much of a coward to risk arrest, being fired, and actual gunfire to secure your rights, you have no words to speak I value.”

“Sorry I hate freedom?” Fracker wrote in a Facebook comment about the photo, also included in evidence. “Not that I did anything illegal.”

The officers are on paid administrative leave. The town announced Sunday that it had notified federal authorities of their presence at the Capitol.

“We’re very much aware that this is a keen and important issue to the community,” Town Manager James Ervin said Wednesday.“At this point it’s a criminal matter and we have to allow the authorities to prosecute their case as they see fit.”

Fracker is a K9 unit officer who joined the Rocky Mount Police Department in 2017. Robertson is his platoon sergeant.

Late Tuesday, Fracker issued a written statement that his actions that day were an “expression of grief against what very many Americans would consider tyranny.”

Although there is no credible evidence that widespread voter fraud took place in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats, including the U.S. Supreme Court, struck down more than 40 legal challenges to the election nationwide, Fracker, like Robertson, remains unconvinced. “Maybe some people’s agendas are just to cause havoc at the beckoning of a higher more corrupt power,” he wrote.

Fracker’s statement did not discuss any details of what he and Robertson did. Instead, he shared indignation at the notion that anyone would consider him a seditionist and racist.

“My entire adult life has been dedicated to protecting my fellow Americans. I’ve never once cared about skin color, religion, political views, sexual orientation or anything. Americans are Americans, we bleed the same,” he wrote. “I have fought against terrorists who threatened our way of life. I’ve put away drug dealers who would have seen to our children getting addicted to their product just so they could make a buck.”

Fracker enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2010 and was deployed to Afghanistan. Honorably discharged at the rank of corporal, he now serves in the Virginia Army National Guard, he wrote. “My love for my fellow countrymen has no bounds, to go as far as me willingly giving my life for any other person in this country.”

Monday night at the town municipal building, about 25 protesters who came to pressure the town council to dismiss the officers ended up having a heated exchange with about 25 people who came to support Robertson and Fracker.

Claims that rallying for President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election results are equivalent to supporting Black Lives Matter protests don’t hold up, said Bridgette Craighead, founder of the Franklin County BLM chapter. “We’re protesting lives, not power.”

She expressed skepticism that anyone who went to Trump’s Jan. 6 rally in Washington could profess ignorance of plans to storm the Capitol while Congress was certifying the electoral college votes.

“It was a riot, and he even admits it,” she said, referring to a Facebook comment in which Robertson wrote, “The right IN ONE DAY took the f------ U.S. Capitol. Keep poking us.”

“Why are Black and brown taxpayers paying for these two officers to be on leave with pay?” said Rocky Mount resident Kasey Smith.

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Jeff Sturgeon covers the city of Roanoke, including schools, banking and transportation. Phone: (540) 981-3251. Email: jeff.sturgeon@roanoke.com. Mail: 201 W. Campbell Ave., Roanoke, VA 24011.

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