ROCKY MOUNT — A photograph circulating on social media of two off-duty Rocky Mount police officers inside the U.S. Capitol during Wednesday’s riot sparked a Black Lives Matter protest Sunday outside the department’s building on North Main Street.
In the image, Rocky Mount Police Sgt. T.J. Robertson and Officer Jacob Fracker stand before a statue of John Stark, a Revolutionary War officer from New Hampshire. Robertson appears to be pointing at Fracker, while Fracker, who took the selfie, is making an obscene gesture at the camera.
Reached by phone Sunday, Robertson said he and Fracker did nothing illegal. “I don’t have anything to hide.”
The Rocky Mount Police Department on Sunday said it notified federal authorities that two of its off-duty officers were present during the Capitol attack, which a town news release described only as “an event in Washington, D.C.” Town Manager James Ervin and Police Chief Ken Criner did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment Sunday afternoon.
The photo was originally sent only to other employees in the police department and wasn’t meant to be shared publicly, Robertson said.
However, after it was leaked to social media, he reposted it on his own Facebook page. “I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret,” Robertson said. “It’s being taken totally out of context. I’m not afraid of this being posted, because I’ve done nothing wrong.”
In a Facebook comment, Robertson, 47, wrote that he was “f——— proud” of the photo.
In a screenshot of a Facebook post that was also circulating on social media, Robertson wrote, “CNN and the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem and not some random small business … The right IN ONE DAY took the f——— U.S. Capitol. Keep poking us.”
Sunday, Robertson said he did not support the violence that happened inside the Capitol. “Absolutely not,” he said. “For it to go like that is absolutely ridiculous.”
Robertson insisted that he and Fracker broke no laws. He said they went in the building about 2 or 3 p.m. “We were escorted in by the Capitol Police, shown around and told, ‘As long as you stay here, you’re fine.’” They stayed within the cordoned areas, he said.
Thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump gathered Wednesday to hear him speak near the White House as Congress met to certify the electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden. The supporters, urged on by Trump, then marched to the Capitol and stormed the building, temporarily disrupting the final affirmation of Trump’s election loss. Five people have died, including a Capitol police officer.
Robertson said that he and Fracker did not take part in any of the violent confrontations or ransacking that took place inside the building, nor were they aware at the time that the protest had turned violent.
“The Capitol building is as big as our town,” he said. “Where I was at there was no violence. 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.”
The police department said the officers have been placed on administrative leave pending reviews. Robertson said he and Fracker are on paid leave.
As news of the officers’ presence during the Capitol riot spread Sunday afternoon, about a dozen members of Black Lives Matter of Franklin County gathered outside the town police building.
“We came out to let them know enough is enough, and they have to all be held accountable for the two officers’ actions this past Wednesday,” said Bridgette Craighead, chapter president. “Nobody has ever challenged them before. We want to know what’s going on in our courthouse and the police departments — behind closed doors — I want to know all of that. We want to know all of that.”
Craighead carried a sign that said “Silence is Violence.”
Franklin County School Board Member Penny Blue joined the protesters. “I’m here because the town police, along with the board of supervisors and other people, leadership, in this community are all complicit with what’s going on. They are against Black Lives Matter, but support the militia,” she said. “When we marched this summer, we had no weapons and we had children. The militia was down the street dressed with guns. It’s because the leadership in this town and this county is complicit with what is going on.”
In a Facebook post, Fracker wrote, “I can protest for what I believe in and still support your protest for what you believe in” in response to “anyone who’s possibly concerned about the picture.”
Reached by phone Sunday, Fracker declined to comment.
“It’s just ridiculous to think that because I support a certain political candidate or a certain political party, that I can’t support another cause. Black Lives Matter is not just” a Democratic Party cause, Robertson said.
He and Fracker went to the rally in D.C. in protest of what they consider numerous irregularities in how the votes for the November election were tallied, he said. “I’m not even a big Trump supporter,” Robertson said.
Though no credible evidence exists that widespread voter fraud took place in the U.S. elections, Robertson said he believes there’s still investigation needed. “The irregularities that exist should be looked into,” he said.
Robertson is Fracker’s supervisor in the department. Fracker has been with the Rocky Mount force for about 18 months. Robertson joined the department in 2001, left in 2010 and returned in 2014.
At the Black Lives Matter protest, Gloria Freeman Martin sat in her car parked outside the department with a cardboard windshield sign saying, “EVICTED!!! Get out of our house now!”
“We are never going to solve this problem. I think President Trump was a good thing for America because he finally let people who were hiding come from under the cover and think they could get away with things. And right now while it’s out in the open, we should not be working for unity, we should be working for equality — that’s what Black Lives Matter is all about,” Martin said. “We’re not asking for unity, we are asking for equality. To live in this world, in America, just like white people do and be treated just like human beings, not because we are white or black, just be treated like humans.”