Energy & Environment

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 Trump 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. 

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and with Rep. Deb Haaland (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 McCollum (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. 

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.

Tags Betty McCollum Deb Haaland Donald Trump Lafayette Park Park Police Ron Wyden

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