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Inspector General finds Lafayette Park wasn't cleared for Trump's visit to St. John’s Church
How do you feel about the IG’s report?
By Eric Revell, Countable News
What’s the story?
- The Dept. of the Interior Inspector General on Wednesday released a report which found that U.S. Park Police (USPP) officers who forcibly removed protesters from Lafayette Park on June 1, 2020, were implementing a plan that had been agreed upon days earlier rather than clearing a path for then-President Donald Trump to visit St. John’s Church as had been reported at the time.
- The IG report found that USPP had acted within its authority to clear Lafayette Park and that Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church was not the reason the protesters were removed:
“The evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church. Instead, the evidence we reviewed showed that the USPP cleared the park to allow the contractor to safely install the antiscale fencing in response to the destruction of property and injury to officers occurring on May 30 and 31. Further, the evidence showed that the USPP did not know about the President’s potential movement until mid- to late afternoon on June 1 ― hours after it had begun developing its operational plan and the fencing contractor had arrived in the park.”
- The incident was highly controversial at the time, with then-candidate Joe Biden tweeting, “When Americans peacefully protested outside the White House, this president tear-gassed them for a photo-op.” Biden’s running mate, then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), put out a similar tweet and the talking point was also the focus of a Biden-Harris campaign ad.
- Former President Donald Trump released a statement praising the IG report as “Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!”
- Protests had begun in Lafayette Park, which is across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, on May 29, 2020, and escalated over the course of May 30th and 31st. At least 49 USPP officers were injured and damage to both federal and private property occurred during the protests on those days. Within Lafayette Park, historic statues were vandalized with graffiti and the park’s comfort station was set on fire. A fire was also set in St. John’s Church across H Street from the park, while nearby stores and businesses were looted.
- On May 30th, USPP and the U.S. Secret Service established a unified command to coordinate the law enforcement response and began planning to obtain antiscale fencing to use in establishing a more secure perimeter.
- The Secret Service procured the antiscale fencing on June 1st, and planned with USPP for it to be delivered and installed later that day. USPP and the Secret Service determined that it would be necessary to remove protesters from the area in and around the park to allow the contractor’s employees to safely install the fence and that the operation would begin as soon as the fencing arrived.
- At 10 a.m. on the morning of June 1st, USPP notified officers of the possible fence installation later that day, and at 11:50 a.m. the USPP briefed the Secret Service and the Metropolitan Police Dept. (MPD) on the plan to secure the area and install the fencing. Less than an hour later, it was confirmed that fencing would arrive later in the day
- A meeting between USPP, MPD, and D.C. National Guard officials occurred at 2 p.m. with Attorney General William Barr in attendance who, according to the report, did not mention a potential presidential visit to the park.
- Between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., the USPP incident commander learned of a possible visit by President Donald Trump to Lafayette Park. Fencing began arriving at the White House complex after 4 p.m. and the final semi-trucks carrying fencing material arrived at 5:30 p.m., at which point the USPP provided its final briefing on the operational plan.
- Shortly after 6 p.m., the USPP began issuing its dispersal warnings. At about 6:10 p.m., Barr visited the park and asked the USPP operations commander, “Are these people still going to be here when POTUS comes out?” The USPP commander told the IG he was still unaware of a presidential visit and replied, “Are you freaking kidding me?” before walking off. The USPP commander denied that Barr ordered him to clear the park.
- The third and final dispersal warning went out just before 6:30 p.m. when USPP and other law enforcement agencies began clearing Lafayette Park. The report found that despite the use of a sound-amplifying long-range acoustic device to issue dispersal warnings, not everyone could hear the warnings.
- MPD, which was not part of the USPP-Secret Service command structure, reportedly used CS gas (aka tear gas) contrary to the plan put forward by the USPP commander. MPD also sought to delay the clearing of Lafayette Park until after 7 p.m. when the District of Columbia’s curfew would take effect and it would have clearer authority to arrest protesters, although it was aware that USPP planned for the operation to begin once fencing materials arrived. Additionally, the Bureau of Prisons officers on scene may have used pepper balls contrary to the USPP commander’s plan.
- President Trump began his speech in the Rose Garden at 6:43 p.m. and Lafayette Park was cleared at 6:50 p.m. Trump departed the White House at 7:01 p.m., visited St. John’s Church at 7:09 p.m., and returned to the White House at 7:18 p.m. Contractors began installing the antiscale fencing at 7:30 p.m. and completed the job at 12:30 a.m. on June 2nd.
- The IG report noted:
“Both the USPP acting chief of police and the USPP incident commander stated they were not told a specific time for the President’s potential arrival and that learning this information did not change their operational timeline. The USPP acting chief of police said, “I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the Secret Service and the Park Police… timeline did not change the entire day.”
- The report did not address individual cases involving the use of force by USPP officers, which are the subject of separate inquiries or ongoing lawsuits.
- The IG report recommended that USPP develop a more detailed policy defining procedures for operations involving protests that may require use of force but do not involve high-volume arrests, including detailed dispersal warning procedures (such as the number of warnings, their content, and timing); and how the USPP will ensure that everyone, including law enforcement officers and protesters, can hear the warnings. Further, it recommended that USPP improve its field communication procedures to better manage multiagency operations among law enforcement organizations working with it.
(Photo Credit: The Trump White House Archived via Flickr / Public Domain)
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