SAN ANTONIO – A Bexar County Sheriff’s lieutenant under investigation for being at a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week claims she was hundreds of feet behind rioters and was unaware of the bloodshed taking place in front of her.
Speaking on behalf of Lt. Roxanne Mathai, attorney Hector Cortes told KSAT on Monday his client has been swept up in the hysteria surrounding the fatal uprising.
He said Mathai’s repeated posts to Facebook were made before the law enforcement veteran had learned people were killed and that members of the mob had attacked police and actually gone inside the building. In the posts, Mathai wrote that it was “one of the best days” of her life alongside photos of rioters climbing scaffolding in front of the Capitol.
“So her role in the chaos is really just attending a political rally for a president who she supports,” said Cortes.
Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer, and more than 50 other officers were hurt during the riot that temporarily stalled the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory by Congress.
The images posted by Mathai appeared to be taken from inside the initial barriers police officers had set up to prevent demonstrators from breaching the building. Mathai contends she took the photos later in the day, after the deadly siege.
Cortes acknowledged that Mathai, 46, approached the steps of the Capitol, but he said a 35-second video clip posted to Facebook in which she says, “We’re going in. Tear gas and all. Tear gas don’t bother me,” was social media bluster.
Clouds of chemical irritants, which are typically used by police to disperse crowds, can be seen during the footage.
The siege began Wednesday, less than an hour after President Donald Trump addressed supporters during the “Save America March,” and culminated with thousands of his supporters looting congressional offices and forcing lawmakers to hide or be evacuated.
A day after the riot, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said Mathai was under investigation both criminally and administratively and that his intent was to not have Mathai ever return to work for BCSO, where she was promoted to detention lieutenant last summer.
Cortes said Salazar was too quick to lump in Mathai with the lawlessness demonstrated by other people who attended President Trump’s speech and then walked to the Capitol.
“This was a tragic event that shook everybody and everybody is seeking -- ‘We want some kind of redress.’ I think, under that context, I think that’s maybe what spurred this investigation,” Cortes said.
Salazar this weekend declined to waive a confidentiality order that prohibits Mathai from discussing the internal affairs investigation publicly, including with members of the media.
Mathai has been on administrative leave since October after investigators were made aware of a possible inappropriate relationship between her and an inmate, Salazar previously said.
Cortes said Monday the description of the investigation was distorted by Salazar and that it involves Mathai receiving messages from someone she believed was in jail and using a contraband cellphone.
Cortes said he believes his client will be cleared of wrongdoing as soon as this month since she contacted BCSO officials above her in the chain of command shortly after receiving the messages.
Cortes said photos posted by Mathai closer to the steps at the Capitol on Wednesday were done so later in the evening after rioters had been cleared from the federal building and before a mandatory curfew had gone into effect.
He said that, in later posts by Mathai on Facebook, she condemned the violence and praised police officers who were assembled outside the building after the rioters were removed.
Mathai posted a large number of photos and videos on her Facebook page behind security settings, meaning only certain people connected to her were able to view them.
The KSAT 12 Defenders obtained them from a source last week.