Washington, DC, July 13, 2020 — U.S. Park Police stonewalling efforts to uncover the truth about its actions against protesters gathered in Lafayette Park on June 1st has triggered a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The suit seeks critical documents detailing how this controversial exercise was planned and executed.
On that date, the Park Police forcibly dispersed a crowd of protesters to clear a path for President Trump’s walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he posed for a photo-op with a Bible. Several demonstrators, and even some journalists, were physically hurt during the operation.
PEER’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit seeks documents on, among other things –
- Who was in charge, who gave the order to engage, and what was the operational plan;
- What were the rules of engagement for this event and did the Park Police follow or violate their own protocols; and
- What chemical, explosive, or other crowd control agents were used.
“The people have rights to assemble and the press have rights to freely report that were suppressed by tear gas and flashbangs for the sake of a photo op,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Kevin Bell. “Protesters continuing to assemble in Washington D.C. have an urgent need to know how the Park Police make decisions that directly impact their personal safety,” Bell added. “The Park Police have a clear legal obligation to produce this paper trail.”
The House Natural Resource Committee held a hearing on June 29th seeking clarification on the role U.S. Park Police played in the Lafayette Park confrontation, but the Park Police refused to testify. In the days after the Lafayette Park crowd-dispersal, the Park Police, White House, and Attorney General William Barr have all made contradictory statements about what happened – and why.
“It will apparently require a court order to compel some transparency from the Park Police,” added Bell, noting that one unresolved issue concerns whether the Park Police violated a 2015 Interior Department agreement to provide warnings prior to dispersing crowds. “It is difficult for the public and Congress to distill lessons learned from this fiasco, and prevent its repetition, unless we first find out exactly what happened.”