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Lawmakers seek investigation of Park Police after clearing of White House protesters

Lawmakers seek investigation of Park Police after clearing of White House protesters
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Democratic lawmakers are requesting an investigation into the U.S. Park Police’s use of force in clearing demonstrators who had gathered near the White House to protest the killing of George Floyd.

Park Police have acknowledged using chemical agents on June 1 to clear protesters shortly before President TrumpDonald TrumpSunday shows preview: House GOP removes Cheney from leadership position; CDC issues new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans Navajo Nation president on Arizona's new voting restrictions: An 'assault' on our rights The Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez MORE crossed Lafayette Square for a photo-op at a nearby church.

The Interior Department, which oversees Park Police, has been under increasing pressure from Democratic lawmakers to explain why a largely peaceful protest was met with such a show of force. 

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Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenNFL accused of 'systemic racism' in handling Black ex-players' brain injuries Infrastructure deal imperiled by differences on financing GOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects MORE (D-Ore), House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and with Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandSenate panel advances Biden's deputy Interior pick Interior secretary approves new Cherokee constitution providing citizenship rights for freedmen Carter sworn in as House member to replace Richmond, padding Democrats' majority MORE (D-N.M.) have asked Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to create a website where people present for the protest can submit footage documenting the actions taken by police.

Lawmakers are asking the OIG to “investigate whether the Park Police’s use of force in Lafayette Park complied with applicable law, regulations and agency guidance, including standards set by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. The OIG’s investigation should extend to actions taken by the Park Police and any other Department of Interior law enforcement agencies involved in responding to protests since the death of George Floyd. It also should examine from where the agency received its directives,” they wrote.

In previous correspondence with Grijalva, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt described the protest as “a state of siege” where Park Police were hit with projectiles and “routinely subject to attack by violent crowds.”

But that account conflicts with many reports from the scene, igniting a battle over First Amendment rights.

“It is unacceptable to prioritize clearing the way for the photo opportunity for the president over allowing a peaceful, legal demonstration,” Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumThe Memo: Lawmakers on edge after Greene's spat with Ocasio-Cortez Biden faces pressure from all sides on Israel The Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel MORE (D-Minn.) wrote in a letter to Bernhardt last week, adding that Park Police should have been working to protect bystanders if there were indeed any violent agitators. 

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Interior said Park Police were not seeking to violate anyone's rights.

“The suggestion that the United States Park Police would ‘muzzle’ Americans’ rights is outrageous and an insult to the fine men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our citizens and defend America’s national treasures,” the department said in a statement.

The OIG has not come to a decision about whether to initiate an investigation. 

“We are in the early stages of reviewing the request now,” OIG spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said by email.

Updated at 5:23 p.m.