Rocky Mount has fired two town police officers who have been charged by federal authorities with participating in the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol, one of the officers said.
“We were both terminated,” wrote Thomas “T.J.” Robertson, who until Friday morning was a sergeant with the Rocky Mount Police Department.
Robertson shared an excerpt from a letter citing “conduct unbecoming an officer” as the reason for his firing. The letter states he will be terminated Tuesday.
The town is giving the officers the chance to resign before that date, “or in my case retire,” Robertson wrote Saturday. “I will not be resigning. I’ll fight this at every step.”
He claimed the town violated procedure in order to “make it quick” and that his fellow former Officer Jacob Fracker “is a good kid who doesn’t deserve it.”
Fracker did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Saturday, Rocky Mount Town Manager James Ervin declined to comment on Robertson’s statements. “The officers’ state was changed to suspended without pay Friday,” he said.
The town is continuing to review Robertson and Fracker’s situation. “We expect to have our review completed by Tuesday morning,” with a statement to follow, Ervin said.
On Jan. 13, federal authorities charged Robertson, 47, and Fracker, 29, with a misdemeanor of knowingly entering a restricted building without authority to do so to engage in conduct that disrupts government business; and a petty offense of engaging in disruptive conduct in the Capitol in order to interfere with a session of Congress.
The penalty for the misdemeanor is up to a year in jail. The penalty for the petty offense is up to six months.
In a selfie that Fracker took inside the Capitol Crypt, Fracker is making an obscene gesture. Robertson is pointing at Fracker while holding a wooden pole.
The men have stated repeatedly in interviews that they did nothing illegal and did not participate in any of the violence that unfolded during the insurrection in the Capitol. Robertson maintained that stance Friday in an interview conducted via text messages about a newly unsealed federal warrant that alleges he and Fracker might have participated directly in the riots.
First unveiled through a story published Friday evening by the Daily Beast, the warrant filed by a Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent alleges that Fracker bragged to a friend in a Facebook message that he urinated in U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s toilet while he was in the Capitol.
“S—- was wild lol I p——- in Nancy P’s toilet,” Fracker wrote, according to the warrant.
Fracker shared videos of himself inside the building wearing a gas mask, according to the warrant, and wrote, “We did hahaha it was f——— amazing. Flash bangs going off, CS gas, rubber bullets flying by. Felt so good to be back in the s—- hahaha I was like 8th person inside the building,” comparing the experience to action he saw as a U.S. Marine serving in Afghanistan.
Fracker, now a corporal in the Virginia Army National Guard, was the first active serviceman known to have been charged in connection to the riot, according to a Jan. 14 story in the Army Times. Robertson served in Iraq in the U.S. Army Reserve and later went to Afghanistan working for defense contractor DynCorp, then Xe, he has said. Both men are trained snipers.
Robertson wrote Friday that even if Fracker made those claims, those events could not have happened. “He didn’t get close to Pelosi’s office unless he’s Superman because I lost sight of him for maybe two minutes? Then found him in the statue room.”
Fracker wasn’t wearing a gas mask in the Capitol, Robertson wrote. “None of us had gas masks … we were wearing street clothes,” he wrote.
In an on-camera interview aired Jan. 19 by Channel 4 in Great Britain, Fracker acknowledged violence took place in the Capitol, “but not while we were there.”
The FBI warrant alleges that Robertson sent a photo of a bruise to a friend on Facebook along with the text, “Shot in the ass with a rubber bullet.”
Robertson wrote that the “rubber bullet” claim was a joke. “I was shot by my son two days later with a paintball,” he wrote, “and sent it to a few people.”
Federal investigators searching his private social media communications are misinterpreting statements made in jest, he wrote. “Ministry of Truth type stuff. ‘1984’ was supposed to be fiction,” he wrote. “We have had our homes searched, First Amendment rights restricted and Second Amendment rights removed over a misdemeanor trespassing charge.”
A video posted by nonprofit news organization Pro Publica shows a large crowd milling in the Capital Crypt at 2:30 p.m Jan. 6. After viewing the video multiple times, Robertson confirmed in a text message that he is the man wearing a blue backpack with black stripes who twice appears briefly, standing by a pillar with his back to the camera.
The video “shows even better what I’ve been saying all along about where I was,” he wrote. “That was certainly the area and the general mood of where I was at. No rioting or fighting police obviously.” When the violence took place in the Capitol, “it was not around me.”
Late Friday, Robertson provided The Roanoke Times with the written statement he gave to town officials Friday morning about what he and Fracker did at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The statement is consistent with accounts he has relayed to The Roanoke Times in interviews.
He and Fracker walked up the main Capitol steps “without barricades with 1000s of others,” he wrote. Capitol Police handed out water and directed people to stay within public areas, he wrote.
“I did observe areas being blocked off by them and stayed away from those areas as instructed, as did all others I observed. I and Officer Fracker had gotten separated at this point by the large volume of people, so I made my way to the statue room, a public area, where I located him again,” Robertson wrote.
The photo Fracker and Robertson took in the Capitol Crypt has circulated worldwide. Robertson has said they posed for the photo after a fellow Rocky Mount officer asked about their well-being.
“An officer from the department had called us and said, ‘Hey, we heard things are getting pretty crazy up there, are y’all okay?’ and we sent that picture to say, ‘Yeah, we’re okay.’ It was meant to be a personal photo that went to another officer,” he said.
The response Robertson received from town officials stated that “your response did not provide sufficient exculpatory information” and that Robertson has “engaged in actions that permanently impact your credibility as a witness.”
In interviews, the town manager has said and written that town staff first learned about the photo Jan. 7.
“To the extent that some of our other officers may have been privy to the image before management, that’s a separate issue that we will have to address as we go forward,” Ervin said.
On Jan. 8, the men were debriefed to determine whether their involvement “went beyond free speech and assembly,” Ervin said. “They claimed that their entry into the Capitol was authorized and that they were allowed into the building.”
Town management learned about the photo Jan. 9 and “researched the open-closed status of the building, determining that the building was in fact closed,” Ervin said. “I myself turned the operation over to the FBI.”
Fracker and Robertson were placed on paid administrative leave the morning of Jan. 10, with the notice of termination from the town coming 12 days later, Robertson wrote.
“I don’t deserve the treatment that I am getting over a simple protest,” Robertson wrote.
Earlier this week, the Franklin County Chapter of Black Lives Matter and activist group Franklin County Voters Matter released statements calling for the firing of Fracker and Robertson and the resignations of Town Manager Ervin and Police Chief Ken Criner.
“While we support the firing of the officers, we continue to ask for the resignation of the Town Manager and the Police Chief,” Franklin County Voters Matter founder Eddie Seay wrote in an email Saturday.
“Two down, two to go,” said Bridgette Craighead, founder of the Black Lives Matter chapter.
The town should have placed the officers on unpaid leave when they first became aware of the photo in the Capitol, she said. “The severity of the Capitol riot, that was a serious situation. People died.”
Seay has expressed skepticism that town officials weren’t aware of militant social media posts the men made in the weeks after the U.S. presidential election. A few of Robertson’s comments are cited in the new FBI warrant, such as one from Dec. 19 supporting “open armed rebellion.”
Craighead pointed out that Fracker’s and Robertson’s actions have brought the world media’s attention to Franklin County. She recently gave an interview to Dagens Nyheter, a daily newspaper in Stockholm, Sweden.
“The world has heard my voice more than my county has,” Craighead said. “Since our leaders here don’t see a problem, maybe the world can tell them the problem.”