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Police did not clear DC’s Lafayette Park of protesters so Trump could set up photo op, new report says

WASHINGTON – When federal police officers violently evacuated protesters from the city’s Lafayette Park in June 2020, they did so so a contractor could put up a fence – not to let President Donald Trump hold a meeting photo in a nearby church, an investigation by the inspector of the Interior Ministry general found.

This finding, published Thursday, may surprise many detractors of Trump, who have long claimed that the president or his attorney general had ordered the operation to pave the way for an act of political theater. It is also the central allegation of a federal Black Lives Matter lawsuit against the Department of Justice.

The report found no evidence of this, but found Attorney General William Barr urged authorities to speed up the cleanup process once Trump decides to cross the area that evening.

Inspector General Mark Greenblatt identified problems with the cleanup operation, including the likelihood that many protesters did not hear police warnings to disperse before police intervened.

And he found that the pepperballing by officers of the Bureau of Prisons was “inconsistent with the directives” of the incident commander. Investigators could not determine why officers from the Bureau of Prisons were there, but they arrived late and missed the operational briefing, according to the report.

The report found that Washington, DC Police, one of several law enforcement agencies on the scene, fired tear gas at protesters and the use of gas was a surprise to police. of the park, who was directing the operation.

But Greenblatt found out that the park police had the power to clean up the park and decided to do so – in consultation with Barr – hours before anyone knew Trump was planning to make an appearance.

“The evidence we reviewed showed that (park police) cleared the park to allow a contractor to safely install limescale fencing in response to the destruction of federal property and injury to personnel. agents May 30 and 31, “Greenblatt said in a letter. “In addition, the evidence established that the relevant officials (of the park police) made these decisions and began implementing the operational plan several hours before they learned of a possible presidential visit to the park, which took place later in the day. As such, we determined that the evidence did not support the conclusion that the (park police) cleared the park on June 1, 2020, so President Trump could then enter the park. “

Greenblatt also found that Barr’s physical presence in the park had no impact on the decision to clean up the park. A widely circulated video shows Barr entering Lafayette Park after 6 p.m. with his security guards and other White House staff.

However, according to the IG report, the park’s police operations commander told investigators Barr asked him why the crowd was still on H Street and said he believed they would have gone to this stage.

Police did not clear DC’s Lafayette Park of protesters so Trump could set up photo op, new report says

“Will these people still be there when POTUS [President of the United States] fate? ”Barr is quoted as saying.

The commander said he did not know until then that Trump would come out of the White House and enter Lafayette Park.

He said he replied to the attorney general, “Are you kidding me?

The IG investigation took no position on whether the park police made a good decision in deciding to clean up the park – only that the decision was legal and in accordance with policy.

The report states that the protests on May 30 and 31 “were mostly peaceful during the day,” but that “acts of violence increased in the late afternoon and evening” and that “officers reported that some protesters threw projectiles, such as bricks, stones, caustic liquids, frozen water bottles, glass bottles, flares, rental scooters and fireworks, at law enforcement. “

A total of 49 park police officers were injured in protests from May 29 to 31, including one who underwent surgery, according to the report.

Historic statues in Lafayette Park were vandalized with graffiti and on May 31, the park’s sanitary block was set on fire, according to the report. A fire was also started in the basement of St. John’s Church on May 31 and nearby stores and businesses were looted, the report added.

Police remove protesters from St. John’s Church near the White House on June 1, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP folder

On May 31, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a visit at 11 p.m. curfew, noting that “in the downtown area of ​​the District of Colombia, many businesses and government buildings have been vandalized, torched or looted. During the last few nights there has been a glorification of violence, especially in the last hours of the night. … The health, safety and well-being of people in the District of Colombia are threatened and endangered by the existence of these violent actions. “

But the park police commander and the acting police chief told investigators the curfew was ineffective in stopping the unrest in Lafayette Park, according to the report.

MSNBC correspondent Garrett Haake – who was at the scene when police began cleaning up the park – reported that the protests were largely peaceful until police intervened.

“It was by far the most peaceful day of protest we have had in Washington since Friday night,” Haake reported.

“We had mounted the federal police which went down H Street from east to west, evacuating people from the street. In front of them, they used flash bangs, tear gas,” added Haake. “As I listened to the President of the United States talk about law and order, I watched people fall as they ran, I watched people being pushed back by the police.”

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