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CASEY: Questions surround 2 Rocky Mount officers' Jan. 6 presence at the Capitol

CASEY: Questions surround 2 Rocky Mount officers' Jan. 6 presence at the Capitol

As a violent crowd of insurgents ransacked The Capitol building in Washington, D.C., forcing representatives and senators into hiding, Sgt. T. J. Robertson and Officer Jacob Fracker went inside the Capitol, too. Robertson has insisted they did nothing illegal. Federal authorities disagree.

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By now you’ve heard about the arrests Wednesday of Rocky Mount Police Sgt. T.J. Robertson and Officer Jacob Fracker, who attended President Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C. while they were off duty. Later that day, they also went to the protest that became a siege at the Capitol.

They got inside, too, and snapped a selfie of themselves posing in front of a statue, as Fracker made an obscene gesture to the camera.

Wednesday, federal authorities charged each with misdemeanors of knowingly entering a restricted building without authority to do so and engaging in conduct that disrupts government business. The town of Rocky Mount has put each on administrative leave.

Before their arrests, Robertson, 47, was the more outspoken of the duo. He freely made statements to this newspaper that were both eye-opening and question-provoking. Since their arrests, however, he’s understandably clammed up.

I gave Robertson a call Thursday, and he told me: “I can give you a statement, but under the advice of an attorney I can’t answer questions.” I asked him to email the statement and texted him my address. He acknowledged receiving it, but as of Friday evening, the statement had not arrived.

But before the arrests, in a Jan. 10 article by my colleagues Mike Allen, Luanne Rife and Karen Dillon, Robertson made some other statements. Those bear examining, so let’s begin.

Robertson said he and Fracker went in the Capitol in the 2 to 3 p.m. time range that day. The building was closed to the public, and surrounded by barricades that protestors eventually overran. It’s unclear how or if Robertson and Fracker crossed those.

“We were escorted in by the Capitol Police, shown around and told, ‘As long as you stay here, you’re fine,’” he said in the Jan. 10 story.

The photograph Robertson later posted on social media depicts he and Fracker before a statue of John Stark, an American revolutionist from New Hampshire who’s gotten credit for that state’s motto, “Live free or die.”

Notably, Stark’s statue is the Capitol’s Crypt, a ground-floor level museum beneath the Capitol Rotunda, which is at the building’s center. The Crypt’s 40 stone columns support the Rotunda’s floor, according to the Architect of the Capitol’s website. (The Crypt has other statues, too.)

The time range of their presence suggests Robertson and Fracker were inside the Crypt while great mayhem unfolded outside and upstairs. That bedlam included the overrun barricades, smashed windows, and beaten and bear-sprayed police officers. The police used tear gas and flash-bang grenades in a fruitless attempt to keep the rioters at bay.

Five people died from that chaos, including one protestor who was shot and a police officer who was struck with a fire extinguisher and later died.

During the same 2 to 3 p.m. time range, members of the House and Senate fled their respective chambers and hid from insurrectionists who stormed the building. Some of the invaders were shouting, “Hang [Vice President] Mike Pence!”

But Robertson said he was unaware of any violence at the time he and Fracker were there.

“Where I was at there was no violence,” Robertson was quoted in the Jan. 10 story. “There was no fighting with police officers. The door was wide open and police officers were actually handing bottles of water out to people that came in.”

Another statement Robertson made in explaining how he and Fracker were unaware of any violence at the time was “The Capitol building is as big as our town.”

I looked into that, and discovered it’s not quite accurate. Here are the facts: The Capitol’s building’s footprint is 4 acres — roughly the size of three football fields. The building stands on a 58-acre plot of land that’s a national park.

Rocky Mount’s area is 6.849 square miles, which equals 4,383 acres. So the Capitol building is less than 1/1,000th the size of Rocky Mount. And the town is more than 75 times the area of the Capitol building and the grounds surrounding it.

Given the pandemonium that day, it seems hard to believe Robertson could have missed all of it. On the other hand, it’s unclear through which door he and Fracker entered the building. Could it have been on the opposite side of the Capitol from where the rioting was? We just don’t know.

It’s also unclear why Capitol Police seemed as welcoming as Robertson described. Aside from the officer who died from injuries he received, at least 13 others were injured. Did Robertson and Fracker display their own law enforcement IDs to the cops in the building and get favorable treatment? That’s unclear, too. We also don’t know if they had their police IDs with them that day.

And why did Fracker, 29, pose inside the Capitol Crypt using a defiant gesture in that photo? It’s not your typical tourist shot.

There’s also the matter of a social media post Robertson put up on his Facebook page after the Capitol’s invasion. That seems to belie Robertson’s earlier statement he and Fracker were unaware of any violence. Here it is:

“CNN and the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem and not some random small business.

“The Left rioted all Summer and just burned their own neighborhoods, assaulted numerous civilians, and destroyed and looted small family owned stores.

“The Right IN ONE DAY took the f——— US Capitol. Keep poking us.”

Do those sound like the words of a guy who witnessed no violence whatsoever at the Capitol on Jan. 6?

We probably won’t get the answers to any of these questions until Robertson and Fracker go to trial, enter pleas to the charges, or the government upgrades their alleged offenses.

Stay tuned.

Contact metro columnist Dan Casey at 981-3423 or dan.casey@roanoke.com. Follow him on Twitter:@dancaseysblog.

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Dan Casey knows a little bit about a lot of things but not a heck of a lot about most things. That doesn't keep him from writing about them, however. So keep him honest!

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