Officer challenges account of violent clearing of protesters

U.S. Park Police began the violent clearing of protesters from Lafayette Square last month without apparent provocation or adequate warning to demonstrators, immediately after Attorney General William Barr spoke with Park Police leaders, according to an Army National Guard officer who was there.

The account of Adam DeMarco challenges key aspects of the Trump administration’s explanation for the clearing of the protest in front of the White House, just before President Donald Trump walked through the area to stage a photo event in front of a historic church.

DeMarco’s account was released in written testimony for his scheduled appearance Tuesday before the House Natural Resources Committee’s hearing on the Park Police’s punching, clubbing and use of chemical agents against what appeared to be largely peaceful protesters on June 1. The administration’s forceful clearing of the protest area in front of the White House came at the height of nationwide street demonstrations sparked by the killings of George Floyd and other Black citizens at the hands of police.

“From what I could observe, the demonstrators were behaving peacefully,” when Park Police, the Secret Service, and other, unidentified forces turned on the crowd, DeMarco writes. The rout started shortly after Barr and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appeared in the square, where Barr appeared to confer with Park Police leaders, he says.

The legally required warnings to demonstrators before clearing the square shortly after were “barely audible” from 20 yards away and apparently not heard by protesters, he said.

Park Police and other officers began suddenly routing the crowd without warning to National Guard forces present, DeMarco said. And a Park Police liaison officer told DeMarco that his forces were only using “stage smoke” against the crowd, not tear gas. DeMarco said the stinging to his nose and eyes appeared to be tear gas, however, and says he found spent tear gas canisters in the street later that evening.

Spokespeople for Barr and for the U.S. Park Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. In the past, the Trump administration has said violent actions by protesters warranted the forceful clearing of Lafayette Square, and denied the Park Police acted to clear the square ahead of Trump’s photo event.

DeMarco says he was the appointed liaison at the event for the Interior Department’s Park Police and the National Guard, and was standing near a statue of Andrew Jackson, as Barr and other senior officials involved congregated.