The Department of the Interior’s inspector general said Wednesday that Trump White House officials did not forcibly clear protesters from Layafette Park last year during Black Lives Matter protests and riots in Washington and around the United States so that the former president could get his photo taken in front of a church.
The inspector general’s report (pdf) also said the U.S. Park Police (USPP) did not use tear gas to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters near the White House on June 1, 2020. The Metropolitan Police, which is operated by the D.C. municipal government, used tear gas in a separate, unconnected incident, officials said.
Last year, Democrats and some administration officials alleged that former President Donald Trump ordered the clearing of Layfatte Park so he could pose for a picture of him holding a Bible. That incident occurred during the height of left-wing riots, demonstrations, acts of violence, and arson incidents across major metropolitan areas after the officer-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May.
The pictures and allegations, along with other Trump administration actions, became a flashpoint foisted by his critics who claimed the former president mishandled the riots and protests.
Park Police had the authority to clear demonstrators in the park to set up fencing after riots and protests in the area—not because of Trump. The former commander-in-chief has also denied the claims he used police to clear them out.
But, according to Wednesday’s inspector general report, “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.”
Further, Park Police had issued three dispersal warnings before clearing the area, but it was clear the message wasn’t audible for the crowd of protesters, according to the report.
The federal Park Police and Secret Service, it added, “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,” according to the report.
The report found that police video and other footage showed that at least one “officer shot pepper balls toward the crowd on H Street from inside Lafayette Park but did not show protesters breaching the fence line,” noting that the Park Police incident commander had said pepper balls should only be deployed if protesters breached the fence line.
In the days leading up to June 1 of last year, protesters and rioters carried out acts of violence, the inspector general’s report stated. Forty-nine Park Police officers were injured.
The Metropolitan Police had said that protesters and rioters threw objects at police during Black Lives Matter protests in D.C. last year. That included an incendiary device that severely burned an officer, officials said.
Around Lafayette Park last summer, there were numerous reports of acts of vandalism, and activists also attempted to set up a D.C. “autonomous zone.” Meanwhile, the aforementioned St. John’s Church was vandalized multiple times last summer, including an alleged arson attempt.
Demonstrators also attempted to tear down a statue of U.S. President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square but ultimately failed. The Department of Justice later charged four men over the incident.