Officer challenges account of violent clearing of protesters

Full Screen
1 / 2

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Monday, June 1, 2020, file photo police clear the area around Lafayette Park and the White House in Washington, as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers last month. The violent clearing of demonstrators from the nation's premier protest space in front of the White House is spotlighting a tiny federal watch force created by George Washington. Democratic lawmakers want answers about the clubbing, punching and other force deployed by some Park Police in routing protesters from the front of the White House on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The U.S. Park Police and Secret Service violently routed protesters from Lafayette Square last month without apparent provocation or adequate warning, immediately after Attorney General William Barr spoke with Park Police leaders, according to an Army National Guard officer who was there.

The account of National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco challenges the Trump administration’s explanation that vicious attacks by protesters led federal forces to turn on what appeared to be a largely peaceful crowd June 1 in the square in front of the White House. Law enforcement and security officers that night clubbed and punched protesters and unleashed mounted officers and chemical agents against them in one of the most controversial confrontations at the height of this year's nationwide protests over the killing of Black people at the hands of police.

The forceful clearing of Lafayette Square, long one of the nation’s most prominent venues for demonstrations, came minutes before President Donald Trump appeared in the area without notice, on his way to stage a photo event in front of a historic church nearby.

DeMarco’s account was in prepared testimony for his appearance Tuesday before the House Natural Resources Committee, which is investigating the use of force — and who directed it — against crowds in the square that night. The National Guard officer is expected to invoke the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, which in part says that no one can block a member of the armed forces from lawful communications with Congress.

Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, said Monday that from DeMarco's written testimony, “it’s pretty obvious that at the highest levels the calls were being made,” although the testimony does not give any explicit details of anyone giving orders. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Acting Park Police Chief Gregory T. Monahan defended the law enforcement response in his prepared testimony. Repeating earlier statements, he said that in the days before the forceful clearing of Lafayette Square, protesters had hurled bricks, rocks and other items at officers, injuring at least 50 officers.

Monahan did not address whether protesters in Lafayette Square launched any attacks against law enforcement immediately before the action on June 1.

Videos and the accounts of journalists and protesters who were present that night depict the crowd as largely peaceful before the rout. Democratic lawmakers have challenged the administration to provide evidence of any crowd violence warranting the sudden use of brute force to drive out protesters.