Park Police failed to warn BLM demonstrators before clearing Lafayette Park, watchdog says

Source: Politico | June 9, 2021 | Ben Lefebvre

‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ incident commander replied when told of Trump’s presence

The Interior Department inspector general found the department’s Park Police failed to give Black Lives Matter demonstrators proper warning before it cleared them from Lafayette Park in June 2020, but its actions were unrelated to former President Donald Trump’s photo-op appearance at a nearby church.

The report released Wednesday also cleared the Park Police of allegations of using tear gas to disperse the demonstrators from the park near the White House, saying D.C. Metropolitan Police used gas in a separate incident nearby and officers from the Bureau of Prisons used pepper balls despite Park Police protocol.

“The [Park Police] incident commander stated that pepper balls should only be used from inside the park if protesters breached the fence line,” the report states. ”USPP and open-source video evidence we reviewed, however, showed that at least one BOP officer shot pepper balls toward the crowd on H Street from inside Lafayette Park but did not show protesters breaching the fence line.”

“While the evidence is not entirely clear, we found that several communication failures may have contributed to any misunderstanding the BOP had with respect to the firing of pepper balls from inside the park,” the report adds.

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The department’s inspector general’s office interviewed witnesses, reviewed video footage and examined written and recorded records to compile the first in-depth government report on the Park Police’s use of force against Black Lives Matter protestors at Lafayette Square Park on June 1, 2020. The Park Police cleared demonstrators well before the 7 p.m. curfew put in place by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, but its leaders were not in the know that Trump planned to hold a photo-op at a nearby church, the report states.

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The Park Police only learned that Trump would be walking through the area around 6:10 p.m. when Attorney General Bill Barr, then on the scene, asked the operations commander, “Are these people still going to be here when POTUS [President of the United States] comes out?”

“The USPP operations commander told us he had not known until then that the President would be coming out of the White House and into Lafayette Park. He said he replied to the Attorney General, ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ and then hung his head and walked away,” the report states.

The Park Police at 6:23 p.m. started warning protestors to clear the area. Shortly after, the Park Police began broadcasting warnings to the demonstrators to leave the park. But videos taken at the scene and interviews show that the warnings were inaudible to many at the park, including some police officers, the report states.

The warnings came before Bowser’s curfew because the curfew only bound law enforcement reporting to her district, not federal officers, the Park Police incident commander said, according to the report.

“We were not enforcing the Mayor’s curfew,” the Park Police incident commander told the IG’s office, according to the report. “We’re a Federal entity. We don’t work directly for the Mayor.”

The IG’s office recommends the Park Police improve how it warns protestors that officers will start clearing the area, including “how the USPP will help ensure that everyone, including all law enforcement officials and the individuals they are trying to disperse, can hear the warnings.” It also suggested the agency “improve its field communication procedures to better manage multiagency operations.”

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