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Washington, DC August 10, 2020 – Nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight sued six federal agencies to compel the public release of key documents relating to the Trump administration’s crackdown on protests against police brutality across the country, including the violent removal of peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square in Washington, DC.
“Rubber bullets and tear gas don’t fire themselves, and federal agents don’t fan out across the country without orders,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “Unidentified police acting on uncertain authority have no place in a democracy. While Bill Barr and Chad Wolf might find it more convenient to keep the public in the dark, we know there must be a paper trail, and we intend to make sure it comes to light.”
On June 1, federal police in riot gear used chemical munitions and rubber pellets to expel demonstrators from a park adjacent the White House shortly before President Donald Trump walked through the area to stage a photo op at a nearby church. The agents were reportedly acting on orders given by Attorney General William Barr, but more than two months later, it remains unclear exactly what orders they were given and under what authority. Barr has denied that the move to clear Lafayette Square was related to the president’s church photo op.
Over the following weeks and months, federal officers from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as National Guard personnel, have been deployed on the streets of a number of American cities in response to the protests that began in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd on May 25.
In Washington, DC; Portland, Ore.; and other cities, there have been multiple, widely reported incidents of federal police refusing to identify themselves or their agencies, deliberately targeting journalists, using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, and grabbing protesters off of the streets using unmarked vehicles.
American Oversight has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the release of public records that could answer important questions about the actions of federal law enforcement in responding to and suppressing protests, including:
- DOJ records of any directives from President Trump placing Barr in charge of responding to the protests as well as any orders issued by Barr in this capacity;
- DOJ records identifying all federal police, National Guard, or military forces deployed domestically in response to the protests;
- DOJ and DHS records of assessments, reports, or recommendations prepared for senior officials regarding data or intelligence collected regarding the protests;
- Records from DOJ, DHS, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the National Guard reflecting orders given to personnel between May 25 and June 5 about the use of force, rules of engagement, deployment, or identification of themselves to the public.
More than a month after American Oversight submitted its requests, the agencies have failed to respond, prompting the watchdog group to file suit today in federal district court in Washington, DC. The complaint asks a judge to order the government to process the FOIA requests and release any responsive records as required by law.
The complaint filed by American Oversight is available here: https://www.americanoversight.org/document/complaint-american-oversight-v-doj-dhs-cbp-ice-dod-and-ngb-federal-deployment-orders-and-use-of-force-guidelines-at-protests
American Oversight is actively investigating the federal, state, and local government response to the ongoing protests against police brutality and has submitted more than 100 public records requests to date. Those requests and updates on the investigation are online here: https://www.americanoversight.org/investigation/law-enforcements-response-to-nationwide-racial-justice-protests
American Oversight is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit ethics watchdog and is the top Freedom of Information Act litigator investigating the Trump administration. American Oversight has filed more than 150 public records lawsuits since March 2017, uncovering and publishing tens of thousands of documents exposing conflicts of interest, abuse of power, and misuse of taxpayer resources at the highest levels of the government. In 2019, American Oversight launched its State Accountability Project to investigate voter suppression and has filed dozens of records requests in Florida, Georgia, and Texas. Follow us at @weareoversight and learn more at http://www.americanoversight.org.
American Oversight es una organización sin fines de lucro e independiente dedicada a la transparencia y a la lucha contra la corrupción. American Oversight es el litigante principal utilizando la Ley de Libertad de Información (Freedom of Information Act o FOIA por sus siglas en inglés) para investigar a la administración de Trump. Desde su comienzo en el marzo de 2017, ha presentado más de 150 demandas para la divulgación de archivos públicos, descubriendo y hecho público decenas de miles de documentos, incluyendo calendarios, correos electrónicos, y registros de gastos de altos funcionarios. Síguenos a @ojocorrupcion y aprende más en nuestro sitio web www.americanoversight.org.