Police officers from around the nation are being investigated for possibly participating in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the rally before it on Jan. 6, but local police chiefs and sheriffs say none of their officers were there.
Two Rocky Mount police officers who admitted being inside the Capitol after being outed on Facebook have been suspended from their jobs and arrested, and officers in Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington are being investigated for their conduct at the rally, where President Trump told supporters to "fight like hell" to overturn President-elect Joe Biden's victory. One U.S. Capitol Police officer was killed by the rioters and four protestors died, three of medical emergencies and one was shot by an officer as she tried to break into the Capitol.
One Black Capitol police officer told BuzzFeed News two rioters flashed badges when he questioned them about why they were carrying a Blue Lives Matter flag. “[One guy] pulled out his badge and he said, ‘We’re doing this for you.’ Another guy had his badge. So I was like, ‘Well, you gotta be kidding,’” the officer said.
Any officer who participated in the insurrection is subject to prosecution, but like all citizens, off-duty police officers have a First Amendment right to attend political rallies.
The Berryville Police Department and Winchester Sheriff's Office policies on the political activity of officers says officers can't use their "official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or nomination for office."
Winchester Police Chief John R. Piper said his department follows the city's political policy, which covers all employees including officers. It is similar to the policies of Berryville and the city Sheriff's Office. The Winchester policy emphasizes employees are free to vote, join political parties or attend political events and express political opinions when not working.
Berryville Chief Neal White said he respects free speech, but noted the rise of social media has amplified remarks by off-duty officers around the country. Some comments have led to firings. White said when an officer "tarnishes the image of their department" they can be disciplined although it hasn't been a problem in his nine-officer department.
"Constitutional rights are something we take oaths to uphold, but sometimes the image that is cast when that speech is put forth causes a lot of concern in the community," White said. "You have that conflict between the First Amendment and the image of what a professional elected official or professional law enforcement officer is supposed to do to protect their community."
White said he was horrified by images of rioters beating outnumbered police officers. He said his officers are coping with the images as best as they can.
"Everyone is as upbeat as they can be, but everybody is searching for answers about why the country is going this way," he said. "For me personally, I'm thinking of how to approach my children who saw some of this and try to help them understand how this happened."
Frederick County Sheriff Lenny Millholland said in an email that his office's policy is for deputies to use commonsense and not break laws when attending off-duty political gatherings. Millholland said he was saddened by the violence at the Capitol and those responsible for it should be "prosecuted to the fullest," but he said what happened hasn't hurt the morale of deputies. Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper said in an email that he isn't aware of any morale problems, either.
"We have to do our business everyday, 24/7, 365," Millholland said. "We have to maintain order the best way we can."
Winchester Sheriff Les Taylor called for unity to "get this country back on the right track."