Energy & Environment

Park Police chief testifies protesters were not cleared from Lafayette Square for Trump visit

The head of the Park Police on Tuesday said he knew that President Trump was going to Lafayette Square on June 1, but denied that this was why protesters were cleared from the area before the president’s visit, which ended with him posing with a Bible outside St. John’s Church. 

“We were notified earlier in the day that the president was going to visit Lafayette Park to view the damage that was done to the park over the course of the preceding days, but we were not given a time on when he was visiting,” acting Chief Gregory Monahan said during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing. 

Monahan said the decision to remove protesters was not linked to the president’s plans, and that he was not ordered by the White House, Attorney General William Barr or Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to force their removal.

“There is 100 percent zero correlation between our operation and the president’s visit to the church,” he told the panel.

Federal law enforcement agents from several parts of the government, including Park Police, forcible removed protesters from the area. Video showed the use of chemical munitions and clubs to aggressively clear protesters. 

Monahnan testified on Tuesday that there had been plans in advance to clear the demonstrators from the area in order to put up a fence in response to prior violence, distancing the action from Trump’s visit.

He also said that officers ultimately used force on June 1 in response to violence that had been occurring on that day. 

“The use of force that we utilized was in direct correlation to the level of violence that we were subjected to,” he said. 

Demonstrators near Lafayette Square were described as behaving peacefully at the time by reporters from The Hill and other news outlets at the scene.

Monahan’s testimony was also contradicted by District of Columbia National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco who said that “the use of force against demonstrators in the clearing operation was an unnecessary escalation of the use of force.”

“Those demonstrators – our fellow American citizens — were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights. Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force,” DeMarco added. 

Monahan said the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls fell in line with requirements to use only the minimum level of force that was necessary. 

He was grilled by Democrats on the panel, who said that excessive use was used against protesters and that they were not warned.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) asked Monahan why he did not wait until the 7 p.m. curfew set by Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on June 1 to disperse the crowd. 

“It actually makes more logical sense for you to wait until 7 p.m.” the lawmaker said.  

Monahan said he disagreed, saying that people did not leave at that time the day prior. The city curfew the night before had been later, at 11 p.m. 

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) questioned Monahan on whether the department followed protocols to audibly warn protesters. He showed a video in which a warning announcement sounds muffled and protesters express confusion. 

Monahan claimed he could hear the warning in the video and that proper procedures were followed. 

“You must have super-human hearing, because I don’t think any of us could hear it,” Huffman replied. 

Monahan said other videos, in his view, showed protesters could understand the warning. 

“Based on other video that I’ve viewed…throughout the first warning through the third warning you can see a number of demonstrators leave the area and heed the warning,” he said.

This story was updated at 3:56 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Jared Huffman Ruben Gallego William Barr

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