A Chicago police officer was arrested Friday on federal charges of breaching the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and entering a Democratic senator’s office with the violent mob, later texting to a friend that he’d “knocked out a commie.”
Officer Karol Chwiesiuk, 29, was charged in a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court in Washington with five misdemeanor counts, including entering a restricted building, disrupting government business and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds with intent to impede a congressional proceeding.
The 19-page complaint alleges Chwiesiuk broke into Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office with the throng that stormed the building and took a selfie showing him grinning and wearing a hoodie with the Chicago Police Department logo on it.
He also allegedly sent texts to a friend saying “Busy planning how to (expletive) up commies” prosecutors said. That text allegedly was sent two days before he traveled to Washington to attend a rally for then-President Donald Trump, according to prosecutors.
On the day of the Capitol siege, Chwiesiuk texted the same friend, “We inside the capital lmfao.”
After the siege made national news, the same friend texted Chwiesiuk to report he’d seen guns were drawn and windows broken out in the U.S. Senate chamber.
“Yeah I was there,” Chwiesiuk allegedly replied, adding later with a racial slur, “(Expletive) don’t snitch.”
Chwiesiuk, who lives with his parents on Chicago’s Northwest Side, was arrested at 8 a.m. and appeared via telephone conference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Fuentes, who ordered him released on bond. As part of the conditions of his release, Chwiesiuk was ordered to surrender any firearms as well as his firearm owner’s identification card.
Chwiesiuk’s lawyer, Timothy Grace, said he has been a Chicago police officer since 2018 and was most recently assigned to patrol the Harrison District. He was stripped of his police powers earlier this week and reassigned to desk duty, Grace said.
A 2010 graduate of Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Chwiesiuk earned two degrees from the University of Missouri and was a Cook County sheriff’s deputy before joining the Chicago Police Department, Grace said. The sheriff’s office on Friday reported no disciplinary issues for Chwiesiuk while he was there.
Grace said he does not expect felony charges against Chwiesiuk, and while he was not sure whether the FBI ever contacted his client previously, he was certain the officer was surprised by the arrest.
Grace said he was not aware his client had engaged in any violence, saying he followed the crowd into the building. Chwiesiuk had a brief, pleasant conversation with an officer in the Capitol who told him he should probably leave, and he did, the lawyer said.
Grace said his client comes from a hardworking Northwest Side family and formerly worked at Cook County Jail. Chwiesiuk also is disappointed in himself, Grace said, meaning he understands this was not the way to protest, but “we still do have a First Amendment in this country.”
Chwiesiuk spoke only briefly during the 45-minute hearing, answering, “Yes I do,” when asked by the judge if he understood the terms of his bond.
The charges each carry up to a year in prison if convicted. An initial appearance was set for Thursday in Washington.
Chicago police Superintendent David Brown called the D.C. riots “an absolute disgrace” at a Friday news conference at City Hall.
“The fact that a Chicago police officer has been charged in that attack on American democracy makes my blood boil, makes me sick to my stomach,” Brown said. “And yes, if these allegations are true, it breaks my heart. Participating in the siege on the Capitol in any way was a betrayal of everything we stand for, the oath (and) the law.”
But, Brown said, the department “will not allow anyone to tarnish our shining star, to bend it, twist it or sully its true meaning.”
At the same briefing, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the officer’s alleged actions are “a total disgrace to the badge.”
“This kind of behavior can never be tolerated here in Chicago, not in our Police Department or anywhere else in our city,” she said.
Lightfoot reiterated that the city stands against hate.
“This isn’t about a single police officer charged with a heinous crime, a heinous assault on our democracy,” she said. “We have to stand in one clear, united voice and say, ‘Not in this time, not in this place, will we ever tolerate hate.’”
Lightfoot also ripped into Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, who initially downplayed the riot before apologizing for his remarks. Catanzara could not immediately be reached for comment.
The case against Chwiesiuk marks the first criminal charges for a Chicago cop stemming from the Capitol incident. Days after the riot, the Police Department announced it was looking into whether any of its officers participated in the incident, but none was ever publicly identified as part of that probe.
Other major police departments in large U.S. cities reportedly did the same examination, including the New York Police Department. In Philadelphia, a police detective was reassigned as the department looks into her possible presence at the rally for Trump that preceded the Capitol attack, The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported.
The timing of the charges against Chwiesiuk is particularly damaging for Lightfoot’s administration, which is working under a federal consent decree that aims to repair the badly broken relationship between the police and communities like the one on Chicago’s West Side that Chwiesiuk patrolled.
The officer’s text allegedly telling his friend “don’t snitch,” in fact, alludes to a code of the city’s streets that police often condemn when trying to get citizens in communities plagued by violence to come forward and cooperate.
Chwiesiuk was at least the 10th Illinoisan to be federally charged as part of the ongoing investigation into the Capitol attack, which prosecutors have described as one of the largest criminal investigations in American history.
According to the complaint, Chwiesiuk was captured in photos wearing a CPD hoodie. Geolocation captured his cellular phone in and around the Capitol, prosecutors said, and included texts from the phone in the paperwork.
One text string included in the complaint showed that Chwiesiuk told his friend on Jan. 3 that he was going to Washington “to save the nation.”
Chwiesiuk arrived in Washington the day before the attack and checked into the Mayflower Hotel under his sister’s name, according to the charges. He allegedly sent photos of himself with a group of people at Trump’s rally standing with a Black man wearing a red hat with a pro-Trump slogan.
“Token black guy?” the friend texted back.
“Mericans, yes,” Chwiesiuk replied, according to the complaint. “There are so many blacks here I’m actually in disbelief.”
After entering the Capitol with the rest of the mob, Chwiesiuk proceeded to Merkley’s office “where at least two individuals are seen smoking what appear to be cigars at approximately the same time” Chwiesiuk was in the room, according to the complaint.
While inside the senator’s office, Chwiesiuk stopped to take the selfie and send the text to his friend that he was inside the Capitol, the complaint alleged.
After leaving the office, Chwiesiuk walked through the Capitol Crypt, then returned to the Senate wing door and exited through a broken-out window, the complaint alleged.
No one answered the door Friday afternoon at the two-story home Chwiesiuk shares with his parents in Oriole Park, a Northwest Side neighborhood just east of O’Hare International Airport.
Chicago Tribune’s Megan Crepeau, Annie Sweeney and Jeremy Gorner contributed.