Energy & Environment

Witnesses describe ‘excessive force’ used by law enforcement in Lafayette Square


Witnesses testified Monday that Park Police met largely peaceful protests with escalating force during a now-infamous incident at Lafayette Square earlier this month. 

Protester Kishon McDonald and reporter Amelia Brace, during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing, described a scene where officers cleared protesters, saying they did not hear any warnings before projectiles and chemical munitions were fired. 

“Police started throwing tear gas and flash bang grenades at us for no reason. We were retreating,” McDonald said in his opening statement. 

“I’ve seen footage of this kind of attack on African American protesters in the 1960s when we wanted change. The dogs and water cannons from the ’60s have turned into tear gas and flash bangs today,” his prepared statement reads

He added during the hearing that he believed law enforcement used “excessive force.”

Footage has shown Brace, a reporter with Australia’s Seven News, and her cameraman Tim Myers being confronted by law enforcement. Video shows Myers being hit in the stomach with an officer’s shield and his camera being punched. 

“Tim suffered what I would describe as a harder hit than what I did … with the shield to his stomach and then the camera was punched which put it back into his face. He also was hit with a nonlethal projectile in the back of the neck,” Brace testified on Monday. 

The reporter added that she was hit across the back with a baton and hit in the legs with projectiles. 

The Park Police have said they are investigating two officers in response to what happened to Brace and Myers.

Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan has said the Park Police’s actions were necessary due to “violent” protesters who threw objects like bricks at law enforcement. 

McDonald and Brace said during the hearing that they did not see any violence at the protest prior to the clearing of protesters. 

Monahan was invited to testify at the hearing but declined. In a letter to Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Interior Department legislative affairs director Cole Rojewski suggested that Monahan could appear in July instead. 

“Assistant Chief Monahan would like to accept your request to appear before the Committee to present the facts that occurred on the ground that evening,” Rojewski wrote. “However, because of the ongoing protests and accompanying violence and destruction of memorials and monuments by some individuals, the United States Park Police must currently continue in its highest operational status.”

He added that Monahan has been the subject of lawsuits in relation to the incident and wrote that “this discussion would be further constrained, if not completely circumvented in its entirety, were an adverse party to such a lawsuit also asked to testify at that same hearing.” 

McDonald is part of a lawsuit over the incident. 

During the hearing, Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University who was a Republican witness during the House impeachment hearings, testified that questions remain as to whether the Park Police’s tactics in dispersing protesters were legal. 

However, Turley, who is also an opinion contributor for The Hill, said that the actions toward Brace appeared to be illegal. 

“I think that that attack was unlawful,” Turley said.  “Any officer could have seen that the Australian journalists were in fact journalists. They identified themselves correctly as journalists … but also they knew there were journalists in the area so this one doesn’t strike me as a very close call.”

Shortly after protesters were removed from the square, President Trump walked through it to a nearby church, leading critics to believe the protesters were removed for a presidential photo opportunity.

The incident is now the subject of an internal watchdog probe through the office of the Interior Department’s inspector general following requests from at least three lawmakers.

Tags Donald Trump Lafayette Square Photo op protesters
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