U.S. Park Police did not clear Lafayette Park and the nearby area of protesters on June 1, 2020, so President Donald Trump could walk from the White House over to St. John’s Church, but learned of his interest in surveying the site hours after they already had begun planning to clear the area to put up new fencing, according to a new watchdog report.
The Interior Department’s inspector general did not determine whether law enforcement acted inappropriately against demonstrators last year and did not focus on individual incidents of police use of force, but found that poor communication between agencies and ineffective dispersal warnings “may have contributed to confusion during the operation and the use of tactics that appeared inconsistent” with initial plans.
Specifically, the report found that Bureau of Prisons officers on the scene used pepper spray against protestors and that Metropolitan Police officers used tear gas, despite orders from Park Police not to do so.
Additionally, Secret Service deployed against protestors before the first dispersal orders were given – and warnings asking demonstrators to disperse were not heard by protestors before police started aggressively clearing the park.
The office also concluded that the Park Police officers acted within their authority to begin clearing Lafayette Square and nearby before the city’s 7 p.m. curfew, a move that was widely criticized at the time as having contributed to the chaos and confusion at the scene.
Interior Department Inspector General Mark Greenblatt, nominated by Trump, called the events of June 1 a “a particularly tumultuous event in a tumultuous time” and said their review looked at why U.S. Park Police decided to clear Lafayette Square when and in the manner they did, and whether the president’s plans to come out of the White House influenced those decisions. The review ultimately found park police had been planning to clear the area for days to install anti-scale fencing and that the decisions on the ground were not changed because of the president or White House’s plans.
“We did not find evidence that a potential presidential visit to the park or the St John’s Church influenced the park police’s decision making, or their deployment, you know, in their operation to clear out the park. So that’s the big, the big finding of our report is, is the is the clear evidence of why they decided to do so and when they made the decision, and on the flip side, the lack of evidence related to the President’s potential visit influencing that decision,” he said on ABC News Live.
Police did not clear Lafayette Park area so former Pres. Trump could hold “Bible” photo op, according to new watchdog report. “This was obviously a particularly a tumultuous event in a tumultuous time,” Interior Dept. Inspector General Greenblatt says. https://t.co/E9YPpDV2U5pic.twitter.com/lydxZqdxyC
— ABC News Live (@ABCNewsLive) June 9, 2021
Trump, accompanied by top officials and with great fanfare, walked over to the church, damaged by fire the night before, minutes after protesters were cleared and following a Rose Garden speech promising to crack down on violent protests, ending his remarks by saying, “… and now I am going to pay my respects to a very, very special place.”
Citing interviews, radio dispatches, videos and other records from Park Police, the 38-page report echoes claims from senior Trump administration officials last year that the park wasn’t cleared for Trump’s controversial photo op.