Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters
The U.S. Park Police’s radio communications system did not record any transmissions when the agency and other law enforcement officers dispersed a crowd of protestors gathered around Lafayette Square on June 1 ahead of President Trump’s visit to a nearby church, the agency told The Washington Post.
The disclosure comes as the episode faces scrutiny from members of Congress and the internal watchdog for the Department of the Interior. Park Police have previously acknowledged using smoke canisters and pepper balls to clear the group of largely peaceful protestors who gathered in the area following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.
The incident came ahead of a 7 p.m. citywide curfew and just moments before Trump visited St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op. Members of the Secret Service, D.C. National Guard and Arlington County police were also involved.
Park Police Lt. Jonathan Hofflinger told the Post on Tuesday that “at the conclusion of the demonstrations, we discovered that the radio recorder was not working and did not record any transmissions.”
“However, written radio logs were generated as a redundant practice,” he said. “This recorder issue has since been rectified.”
Park Police did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill for further comment.
“Trump administration officials ordered the attack on clergy, nonviolent protesters, and working members of the press. For the official audio record of that day to now turn up missing has every appearance of a coverup,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who is leading an investigation into the events that day, told the Post.
He added that his panel would like to hear from U.S. Park Police acting chief Gregory Monahan later this month.
Grijalva’s committee in late June conducted a hearing examining the forced removal of protesters at Lafayette Square. The hearing included testimony from a protester and journalist who were in the area at the time. A representative from Park Police did not participate in the hearing because the protester who testified is involved in litigation against the agency, according to NPR.
Kenneth Spencer, chairman of the Park Police’s Fraternal Order of Police Labor Committee, told the Post that the lack of radio recordings was “frustrating” because he felt officers responded appropriately to the situation.
“Myself included, there were many officers expressing what kind of objects they were being hit with, where it was coming from,” Spencer said. “Everything of that nature was being expressed on the radio.”
He also maintained that the Park Police did not deploy tear gas at the scene, saying that “it was right on the radio transmissions that ‘CS gas’ is not authorized and everybody remove your gas mask.'”
Park Police spokesman Sgt. Eduardo Delgado said last month amid a debate over what qualifies as a chemical agent that pepper balls were an irritant.
“I’m not going to say that pepper balls don’t irritate you,” Delgado told Vox, noting they contain an irritant derived from pepper plants. “I’m not saying it’s not a tear gas, but I’m just saying we use a pepper ball that shoots a powder.”
The Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General said on June 22 that it had begun “collecting and reviewing information” related to the June 1 incident. The office said at the time that it would start investigating Park Police’s actions once it determined which agency had control of law enforcement operations that day.