Energy & Environment

Emails show Park Police reliance on pepper balls, outside police forces during Lafayette protests

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U.S. Park Police email traffic during the June protests at Lafayette Square shows that agency officials were unaware which law enforcement agencies were assisting with the heavily criticized government response as demonstrators were overwhelmed by chemical irritants.

The heavily redacted batch of emails was released Friday as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Park Police, alongside other law enforcement groups including the National Guard, have been scrutinized for clearing largely peaceful protests near the White House on June 1 in order for President Trump to give a speech, bible in hand, at a church across the street.

The emails show, even days into the protests, Park Police did not have a complete list of every law enforcement agency that had arrived to assist.

The conversations also show Park Police quickly exhausted its supply of chemical irritants in just days, even as the agency’s communications wing appeared unaware of the use of pepper balls.

By June 2, the day after Trump’s photo op, Park Police had placed an order for more.

One officer thanked his higher-ups “for emergency approval and authorization to resupply after exhausting PepperBall munitions the last two nights. Should arrive Tuesday … ordering riot vest and larger PepperBall air tanks now,” they wrote.

The emails show Park Police’s top communication official, Alexandra Picavet, learned on Twitter that the agency was using chemical irritants.

“Question: have you seen this?” Picavet wrote to acting Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan and others, linking to a tweet showing a photo of the canisters used to disperse the gas. “Did Park Police use OC Skat Shells on Monday in Lafayette Square? Can you please fill me in so that I can help respond?”

Other emails show the agency was unclear about which law enforcement agencies had arrived to assist with the protests.

Attorney General William Barr personally directed much of the law enforcement response to the protests, and the Department of Justice involvement in the event is now being investigated by the department’s own watchdog. 

Another June 2 email from Lt. David Lamond, commander of the special events unit, alerts Edward Zawislak, commander of business operations, that “up to 1,000 [law enforcement] personnel will be rotating in and out” of the staging areas for police.

“Who are the 1,000 (what organizations?),” Zawislak asks.

Lamond said he was not yet sure of all of the agencies that would be assisting Park Police before listing off a number of agencies he had confirmed were assisting.

“I do not yet have a complete list of every agency responding, as they continue to seem to grow. As of now, I am aware of USPP, NPS SETT Team(s), FBI, DEA, ATF, US Marshals Service, US Border Patrol, CBP and National Guard. The list seems to grow,” he responded.

Several lawmakers have already called for investigations into Park Police response.

“These documents show federal officials lost in the fog of a self-declared war against unarmed protesters,” PEER staff counsel Kevin Bell said in a release. “These first glimpses depict panic and pandemonium among senior officials at several federal agencies.”

Tags Donald Trump Lafayette Square National Park Service Protests tear gas William Barr
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