Orange County sheriff officials are investigating whether an off-duty employee was at the U.S. Capitol riot in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.
The employee – who has not been identified publicly – is cooperating with the probe, according to a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman.
“The Department is investigating the employee’s possible attendance and if so, participation,” said Carrie Braun, the department’s spokeswoman, in response to questions from Voice of OC.
“We received one report [of] an OCSD employee who may have been present at the rally in DC,” Braun said. As of Tuesday morning, she said it was unclear if the employee was at the Capitol during the riot, or if they went to the rally but did not go to the Capitol.
“The employee is not a deputy sheriff and is on long-term personal leave,” which started prior to the rally and isn’t related to it, Braun added.
On Tuesday morning, Braun said she was not aware of any other reports of department employees being at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Five people died at the riot, including a police officer who was attacked in the head by a fire extinguisher, according to police and federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C.
Federal investigators say the Capitol rioters included several off-duty law enforcement officers and some military veterans, with federal charges filed against officers from Houston and Virginia as the investigation continues to identify people.
“Unfortunately, as this case goes on we’re seeing indications that law enforcement officers, both former and current, may have been off duty and participating in this riot activity,” said Mike Sherwin, the top federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. at a news conference Friday.
As part of their investigation into the Capitol riot, federal prosecutors filed conspiracy charges over the weekend against an alleged leader of the Oath Keepers, a group whose membership includes current and former members of law enforcement and the military.
This past June, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy was put on leave and investigated after he wore an Oath Keepers patch on his uniform while responding to a Black Lives Matter protest in Costa Mesa.
“The thorough investigation revealed no evidence that the deputy held extremist or racist views,” Braun said last week.
“The Department will hold the deputy accountable for the violation of the uniform policy. In addition, the Department will hold awareness training for all employees to ensure incidents like this do not occur in the future.”
That training, she said, “is in development and will be shared once finalized and implemented Department-wide.
There have been no indications in recent years that any sheriff officials hold extremist or racist views or have been members of extremist groups, Braun said.
Given the nature of what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, some other police agencies have taken proactive steps to identify if any of their employees were there and whether they participated in any wrongdoing.
Among those at the Capitol during the riot was an off-duty sheriff’s deputy in neighboring LA County who is now under investigation, according to LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who condemned the violence in D.C.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore has said he’s aware of one of his employees attending the rally but that the person did not participate in the violence.
Moore directed his commanders to proactively identify any employees “who may have been in Washington DC last week during the President’s Rally and attack on the nation’s Capitol,” his department said in a statement Friday.
“The Department is in the process of gathering that information and will interview any employees about the extent of their personal involvement in the events of that day,” LAPD officials added in the statement.
Moore said it’s important for officers to come forward for several reasons, including to help federal investigators identify people who committed violence.
“Anyone that we identify that has traveled will be ordered and directed to provide an interview with the FBI, as they are interested in witnesses, and in identifying people who did commit criminal conduct, but also witnesses that were there that may add information as they pursue those criminal acts that were completed that day,” Moore said in a television interview.
Meanwhile, in Orange County, Sheriff Don Barnes has not issued a message asking sheriff deputies to report if they were there or not.
This past week, the U.S. military sent a message to every member of the armed forces calling the events in D.C. a “violent riot” and “a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process.”
“We mourn the deaths of the two Capitol policemen and others connected to these unprecedented events,” continues the memo from the leaders of all branches of the military.
“We witnessed actions inside the Capitol building that were inconsistent with the rule of law. The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection,” it added.
“As Service Members, we must embody the values and ideals of the Nation. We support and defend the Constitution. Any act to disrupt the Constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values, and oath; it is against the law.”
Some of Orange County’s largest police departments told Voice of OC they have not launched inquiries into whether their employees were involved in the riots nor issued any type of message to employees about the incident in general.
“We have not put out a memo to our police department employees but have addressed it in briefings as well as the possibility of any potential issues which may come up in the next week,” said Kevin McCormick, a commander at the Westminster Police Department.
“To the best of our knowledge, none of our employees were involved in the Capitol riots,” he said.
Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said the department’s police chief, David Valentin, also hasn’t sent out a memo regarding the Capitol riots.
“We have no information to indicate that any police employee was involved. Should we become aware of any allegation requiring follow up Investigation, we will do so accordingly,” Bertagna said.
It’s also the case in Anaheim, said city spokesman Mike Lyster: “We have not had any reason to.”
Same for the Fullerton Police Department, according to Cpl. Billy Phu: “Fullerton PD does not have any information that any of our personnel were involved in the incidents that took place at our nation’s Capitol last week.”
Phu said the department also hasn’t sent out any type of memo on the riots to employees.
Garden Grove Police Lt. and spokesman Carl Whitney didn’t respond to requests for comment, but a commander reached by phone Friday said the department hasn’t sent any memo out or conducted such inquiries to his knowledge.
Costa Mesa Police Dept. spokeswoman Roxi Fyad said “no communication has been sent out to the employees about what happened (in the Capitol), and from what we know currently, nobody from our department left town or was in Washington DC.”
Asked whether the department had taken steps or any action to ascertain that, Fyad said “Not that I’m aware of. “
Officials at law enforcement agencies in Huntington Beach and Irvine hadn’t returned requests for comment as of Friday.
Spokespeople for the San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino county sheriff’s departments said they were not aware of any employees being present at the rally or riot in D.C.
Regarding extremist views, Braun said the department’s message to its employees is to serve the community without prejudice.
“A core mission of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is to provide public safety services free from prejudice or favor and to listen to the concerns of the community we serve,” Braun said.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.