Two U.S. Capitol Police officers are suspended and 10 to 15 more are under investigation for their response to the riot two weeks ago, but Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association President Larry Cosme is warning the public not to judge the officers' actions too quickly.
"When you're under attack, you think differently," he told the News4 I-Team, pointing out that the officers at the Capitol building were outnumbered and basically under siege on Jan. 6.
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Cosme believes that dynamic affected how officers behaved toward the rioters, without necessarily meaning they agreed with them. The FLEOA represents federal officers around the country, including many members of the Capitol Police force.
"What occurred should have never happened, and every individual responsible for that should be charged," Cosme said.
But he believes it's unlikely federal officers assisted rioters intentionally. He is not part of the investigation but says he's hearing explanations from some of the men and women his organization represents.
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"Some of those officers that did wear the MAGA hats, they were doing that as diversionary tactic to lure these individuals to another area of the Capitol," said Cosme.
Photos: Pro-Trump Supporters Breach the Capitol Building
He says simply getting out of the way, watching rioters destroy property or even posing for a selfie might have been for self-preservation.
Videos posted on social media by the rioters themselves are the best evidence investigators have in piecing together how Capitol Police officers behaved while the building was under attack. There are also surveillance videos and accounts from fellow officers.
The acting Capitol Police Chief said in a statement that the department has been reviewing the actions of officers who appear to be in violation of regulations and policies and they could face disciplinary action up to, and including, termination.
Some members of Congress have questioned whether officers helped rioters navigate the building, since they located hard-to-find offices of key leaders within minutes.
In a new letter to House leadership, two dozen representatives have urged the formation of an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the federal government's "failure to appropriately respond to and prevent domestic terrorism and violent extremism."
The letter specifically asks "what mechanisms are in place to monitor whether federal law enforcement officers have alliances with violent extremist groups and how can their effectiveness be improved."
"It's alarming, it's disturbing, but it's not surprising," said Lynda Garcia, who runs the policing program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
"There have been a lot of MAGA ties with law enforcement," Garcia said. "We also know that white nationalists have infiltrated law enforcement over the last several years."
Officers' tactical and combat training makes them a known target for recruitment by extremist groups. Garcia says there should be a zero-tolerance policy including officers' actions at the Capitol.
"You can't deliver fair and impartial policing when you're harboring those ideals," Garcia said. "It absolutely needs to be looked into, investigated and addressed."
Cosme says federal officers are reinvestigated every five years, including a financial examination and interviews with family, friends or neighbors.
"That's actually one of the questions — if you have an allegiance to an organization that's going to overthrow the U.S. government," said Cosme.
He points out that all of the officers charged thus far have been from local departments, where budgets are smaller and policies might not require those extensive checks after the initial hiring process.
As for the Capitol Police officers under investigation, he's reserving judgment.
"I think the majority of these are probably going to be centered in a disciplinary setting, and I believe that they will get their due process rights and they will be cleared at the end," Cosme said.
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.