Firing two officers won’t address bigger problems, some local residents say.
ROCKY MOUNT – If you want to fight extremism, then you need to address the issues allowing it to exist. That’s why one group of Franklin County residents say firing two local police officers that took part in the siege on the U.S. Capitol isn’t enough.
Rocky Mount Police Officers Jakob Fracker and Thomas Robertson were fired on Tuesday. Their firing followed several weeks of protests by the Franklin County Voters Matter group, in cooperation with their local chapter of Black Lives Matter.
The organization, which was formed in response to the shooting of George Floyd last summer, points to other issues in the town that need to be addressed. That’s why they’re calling for the town manager and police chief to resign.
“We’re past the firings now and now we can proceed to these other issues that we have with the town manager, the police chief themselves,” said Voters Matter director Eddie Saey. “I think they created an environment where policemen could do anything they wanted to, be members of anything, any organizations they wanted to.”
Militias Left Unchecked
According to Saey, throughout the summer, armed conservative militias roamed the streets of the town, unchecked by police.
“We were involved in a situation last summer with some of the same people and regarding that Confederate statue there in Rocky Mount which is on county property,” said Saey. “There were people there with guns on the corner of the street.”
Saey argues the town’s leadership is creating a professional atmosphere that encourages officers to act inappropriately.
“There was no oversight whatsoever. And so we felt that that led to some of these things that happened,” Saey said.
Though Black liberation protesters in Franklin did not experience violent confrontations with law enforcement, they say their demonstrations were heavily policed. Meanwhile, conservative militias demonstrating at the statue were undisturbed by police, according to Saey.
“The Rocky Mount Police Department supported us pretty much in everything we did this summer. They brought us water, they treated us well, they came to our protests at times and we had one cop protest at the farmers market, which includes dancing and things like that. They even danced with us,” Saey said. “But at the same time, we also knew that at that same protest that day at the Confederate statue, there was a militia there. And they knew it, and did not try to control that in any way.”
Officers Charged With Entering The Capitol
On January 7, a day after the storming of the Capitol by white supremacist domestic terrorists, Saey says he received the news that two officers in town participated in the siege of the Capitol Building. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out – the officers posted a selfie of themselves in the Capitol Crypt on social media.
According to reports by ABC13, Robertson told reporters that Capitol Police ushered them into the building. Videos of the attack on the Capitol confirm that members of the Capitol Police stood back and did not intervene when white supremacist terrorists violently laid siege to the county’s highest legislative office.
The Rocky Mount officers are currently under investigation by the FBI for their involvement in the siege on the Capitol. Each is facing two federal charges. One of these charges is for knowingly entering and remaining in a restricted building. The second charge is for violently entering the Capitol grounds.
The FBI’s warrant for their arrest includes references to social media posts where the officers admitted to entering and defacing the Capitol building. The day after the siege, Fracker sent a photo of himself inside the Capitol building to a friend. That day he also sent a friend a video in which he said “S*** was wild lol I pissed in Nancy P’s toilet.”
Officers And Militias Don’t Mix
Saey said the officers’ support of extremist conservative groups is the reason why trust in the police department is waning.
“Does that mean that the whole police force was doing that? No, certainly not. But these two were public about it. These two were at some of our events. And so it leads to a mistrust,” said Saey.
Voters Matter members say the firings aren’t enough to fix the root of the problem. They’re demanding the resignation of the town manager and Rocky Mount’s Chief of Police.
One of those things is already being planned for. Town manager James Ervin is retiring at the end of April, after 13 years on the job. Dogwood reached out to Ervin, but he didn’t return calls by presstime.
As for Police Chief Ken Criner, his past year has been a rocky one. He was placed on leave from April 7 to May 11, after three Rocky Mount Police Department employees filed complaints. The three employees, along with a fourth, a former officer, also filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Out of the four, three of the cases with the EEOC are still pending.
Criner did not respond to requests for an interview.
An Official Response
On the same day that the two officers were fired, the town issued a statement, saying they understood anger from local residents.
“We hear those who have communicated their anger and frustration about the actions of
these individuals or our response to those actions,” the statement read. “There is no playbook for dealing with what occurred on January 6. We have treated the process of review seriously from the beginning and thank those who contributed and in coordinating a response in a quick, objective and lawful manner.”
Part of the anger referred to in the statement stems from a lack of action on Jan. 11. During the Rocky Mount Town Council meeting that night, Voters Matter and Black Lives Matter activists held a protest outside. They called for Fracker and Robertson to be fired.
White supremacist counter protesters, in addition to a few Second Amendment rights advocates, met them at the municipal building. The counter protesters arrived in the form of a heavily armed militia.
“I can’t even describe how that was. It was surreal really. First time I’ve ever been in a local protest where it felt like we were in danger. I was in D.C. this summer in front of the church there when we got tear gassed and I didn’t feel the danger. I felt it there, in Rocky Mount that night,” said Saey.
There were no physical confrontations between the two groups that night, but Saey says that’s no thanks to the police.
“It certainly didn’t happen but it could have easily happened. And when I say easily, I mean very easily. And there was no police presence there. At least that we knew of,” Saey said.
For those interested in making their voices heard on this issue, call the Chief of Police at 540-483-9275. You can contact the town manager by calling 540-483-7660 or emailing [email protected].