Federal Report: Trump’s St. Johns Episcopal Church Walk Did Not Breakup Protest

WASHINGTON (June 9, 2021) — An internal government investigation has determined that the decision to forcibly clear racial justice protesters from an area in front of the White House last summer was not influenced by then-President Donald Trump’s visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church.

The report released Wednesday by the Interior Department’s inspector general concludes that the protesters were cleared by U.S. Park Police last June 1 so that a contractor could get started installing new fencing.

“The demonstrators were protesting the death of George Floyd, who died after a then-Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck and pinned him to the ground for about 9 1/2 minutes. A half-hour after the Washington protesters were forced from the area with pepper pellets and flash-bangs, Trump walked across Lafayette Park amid the lingering scent of pepper spray and responded to reporters question while holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Church.”

Park Police officials had already planned to clear the area and “had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park,” Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt said in a statement accompanying the report.

The report documents Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, encouraging commanders shortly before the push to clear the protesters because of Trump, but being dismissed.

In a remarkable exchange, the report recounts the testimony of an unnamed Park Police operations commander: “The Attorney General asked him, ‘Are these people still going to be here when POTUS (President of the United States) comes out?’ The USPP operations commander told us he had not known until then that the President would be coming out of the White House and into Lafayette Park. He said he replied to the Attorney General, ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ and then hung his head and walked away. The Attorney General then left Lafayette Park.”

Report Findings:

The  report concluded that “that the USPP had the authority and discretion to clear Lafayette Park and the surrounding areas on June 1. The evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church. Instead, the evidence we reviewed showed that the USPP cleared the park to allow the contractor to safely install the anti-scale fencing in response to destruction of property and injury to officers occurring on May 30 and 31. Further, the evidence showed that the USPP did not know about the President’s potential movement until mid- to late afternoon on June 1—hours after it had begun developing its operational plan and the fencing contractor had arrived in the park.”

The report  further determined “found that although the USPP used a sound amplifying long-range acoustic device to issue three dispersal warnings to the crowd on June 1, not everyone could hear the warnings. Furthermore, we found that the USPP does not have a detailed dispersal warning policy applicable to operations like the one that occurred on June 1 and that this may have led to the ineffective warnings issued to the crowd that day.”

Finally, the report ” found that the USPP and the Secret Service did not use a shared radio channel to communicate, that the USPP primarily conveyed information orally to assisting law enforcement entities, that an assisting law enforcement
entity arrived late and may not have received a full briefing on the rules of engagement, and that several law
enforcement officers could not clearly hear the incident commander’s dispersal warnings. These weaknesses in
communication and coordination may have contributed to confusion during the operation and the use of tactics that
appeared inconsistent with the incident commander’s operational plan.”

Recommendations:

The IG recommend that the USPP develop a detailed policy for protests and other events of the type that occurred on June 1 and improve its field communication procedures to better manage multiagency operations.

 

Source: The US Interior Department IG Report and AP News contributed to the article.

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