The Boston police officer under investigation for sending tweets attacking the former vice president and for attending a January rally that led to an assault on the US Capitol is a 13-year veteran who is perhaps best known for organizing local Back the Blue events across Massachusetts, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Joe Abasciano, a retired Marine who served in Iraq, coordinated the state Republican Party’s effort last fall to persuade candidates to oppose police reforms. Well known in local GOP circles, he is one of a handful of area residents under scrutiny following the Jan. 6 riot in Washington.
The Boston Police Department opened an internal investigation in mid-January after the Globe shared Twitter posts by a user, @mailboxjoe, which another poster had publicly identified as Abasciano.
On the day of the riot, the account posted photos in D.C. of the crowds, calling it a “day for choosing.” It would go on to call then-Vice President Mike Pence, who permitted the certification of votes for Joe Biden as president to proceed, “not a [godly] man” and to accuse him of treason. “I hope you never sleep well again,” @mailboxjoe wrote. “[Y]our Treasonous Act lead [sic] to the murder of an innocent girl and the death of America.”
The Globe was unable to connect Abasciano to the account in January, and the police department has declined since then to identify the officer under scrutiny. City councilors, most notably Andrea Campbell, have pressed the department in recent weeks for details of the investigation. A person briefed on the internal inquiry confirmed this week that it centered on Abasciano.
Abasciano did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Citing a pending internal affairs investigation, Boston police spokesman Sergeant Detective John Boyle declined to comment or specify how many officers are under scrutiny. He said Abasciano is currently on sick leave.
Acting Commissioner Gregory Long said during a City Council meeting early last week that he expected the investigation to conclude “in the next couple of weeks.”
The federal government launched a sprawling probe after rioters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Four months later, at least seven people in Massachusetts and neighboring states have been charged.
The nationwide investigation, which has involved arrests in almost every state, has been so sweeping in scale that federal prosecutors in a March filing called the operation “likely the most complex investigation ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” It is still ongoing — arrests have continued into May and the FBI is still seeking public assistance in identifying other participants.
Other law enforcement agencies and police departments across the country have suspended agents, fired officers, and launched probes into social media use since the riot. Of the more than 410 people who have been charged, at least ten are current or former law enforcement officers, and another at least 20 active or retired officers have been linked to the attack.
Before the election, Abasciano, a 44-year-old resident of West Roxbury, was a mainstay at pro-Trump events and Back the Blue efforts in suburban communities. Events included a rally for Hingham firefighters who sought to display the “thin blue line” flag on town firetrucks, as well as a campaign urging candidates for office last fall to oppose police reform.
Abasciano, who chaired the state Republican Party’s Law Enforcement and Family Coalition, said in a press release at the time that candidates who had taken the pledge were “proudly standing up for the men and women that protect and serve our communities.” Most of the candidates who signed the pledge lost.
Last year, a Roxbury arrest in which he participated became part of a landmark state Supreme Judicial Court ruling that affirmed that young Black men could justifiably run from police out of fear they will be abused and that their flight does not signify criminality. Abasciano was not accused of any wrongdoing in the arrest.
He was awarded the department’s Medal of Honor for his role in 2013 in arresting a suspect with a loaded firearm during a chase and ensuing struggle.
Abasciano was also a member of the Boston ward committee that pushed a pro-Trump platform in West Roxbury. One of its members wrote in the Boston Herald about his trip to the Capitol rally that presaged the riot. That member, Louis L. Murray Jr., also posted a video of Trump supporters traveling to the capital. He has since deleted his account and declined to comment to the Globe at the time.
The Twitter account at the center of the BPD’s investigation has since been deleted. But some of the tweets remain archived online. The user, a self-described “beer drinking, Marine Vet, constitutional conservative who believes in peace through strength” regularly retweeted content supportive of Trump and law enforcement.
Before the Jan. 6 riot, @mailboxjoe began to retweet several posts referencing the scheduled rally and tagged #stopthesteal as well as responding to others with memes describing plans to attend. He tweeted at Pence to “reject the fraudulent votes in this apparent Coup” as a “solemn duty,” as well as at Georgia elections official Gabriel Sterling saying he “can’t wait to see you dragged away in handcuffs.”
Several police departments around the country have grappled with how to respond to those who attended the rally or participated in the Capitol attack among their ranks. During the attack, Capitol Police reported some law enforcement officers in the crowd flashed badges to try to gain entry to the building.
Some agencies — state and federal — have disciplined members for having attended or participated in the events of Jan. 6. The US Drug Enforcement Administration suspended one of its agents in March for attending the riot outside the Capitol, while a Virginia police department fired two officers after they were charged with illegally entering the Capitol and disorderly conduct.
Other departments have also taken a tougher stance on social media support for the attacks, citing possible violation of hate speech guidelines. The Oakland Police Department opened a probe into current officers who liked or otherwise expressed support for posts of the riot from a retired Oakland officer.
At least seven people have been charged in the region — four in Massachusetts, two in New Hampshire, and one in Maine. Three have pleaded not guilty.
A spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston division said investigations are still ongoing, adding that the office is assisting the federal agency’s operation being led by its office in Washington, D.C. She declined to comment on whether the agency had any involvement with BPD’s internal investigation, which is being run through its anticorruption unit.
“We cannot confirm or deny the existence of any investigation, or investigative steps at this time, other than what has already been made publicly available,” she said.
Long, the city’s acting police commissioner, acknowledged last week in a virtual hearing that city councilors were “frustrated by the length of time it’s taken for this investigation.” But he said the length was necessary to ensure the investigation was thorough and would quell future questions.
“With this investigation I want to make sure they’re done the right way,” he said. “I promise you if I thought for one second an officer at the Boston Police Department had participated in that, they would not be a Boston police officer today.”
Elizabeth Koh can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethrkoh. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia and on Instagram @miltonvalencia617.