Secret Service Issues Correction About Using Pepper Spray on Lafayette Square Protesters

Secret Service Issues Correction About Using Pepper Spray on Lafayette Square Protesters
People walk down 16th street after Mayor Muriel Bowser had "Black Lives Matter" painted on the street near the White House on June 5, 2020. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Janita Kan

The U.S. Secret Service issued a correction to a previous statement on June 13, saying that an agency employee had used pepper spray in response to an “assaultive individual” during efforts to secure Lafayette Park earlier this month.

“After further review, the U.S. Secret Service has determined that an agency employee used pepper spray on June 1st, during efforts to secure the area near Lafayette Park. The employee utilized oleoresin capsicum spray, or pepper spray, in response to an assaultive individual,” the corrected statement reads.
The agency had previously denied that its employees had used tear gas or capsicum spray when attempting to disperse the crowd protesting for change about police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The U.S. Park Police (USPP) had also pushed back on claims that tear gas was used by its agents.
USPP also issued a statement on June 13 about the June 1 operation to secure the area in order to expand the protective perimeter around the White House to install a fence.

On the issue of methods used to disperse the crowd, acting Chief Gregory Monahan said that officers employed the use of “smoke canisters, stinger balls, and pepper balls” to respond to protesters who were more combative.

“On June 1, USPP officers and other assisting law enforcement partners operating under the command of the USPP did not use tear gas or Skat Shells to close the area at Lafayette Park,” Monahan said in the statement.

The Trump administration received broad criticism for its handling of protesters near the White House on June 1. The protesters, who were reportedly demonstrating peacefully, were cleared from the area shortly before President Donald Trump and several of his aides made their way across the area to visit the nearby St John’s church.

Some media reported that the protesters were forcefully removed using tear gas and rubber bullets in order to make way for Trump’s visit to the church, but Attorney General William Barr has repeatedly denied that the two events had any correlation.

During an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” on June 7, Barr addressed criticism to dispute claims that protesters at the White House were forcefully cleared from the area using tear gas and other means for the purpose of Trump’s church visit.

Barr said that the decision to clear the park was made before he knew that Trump was going to speak there, and that it was “not an operation to respond to that particular crowd.”

“It was an operation to move the perimeter one block,” the attorney general said.

Barr said the decision was made in response to violent riots in Lafayette Square over the previous few days.

“On Sunday [May 31], things reached a crescendo. The officers were pummeled with bricks. Crowbars were used to pry up the pavers at the park, and they were hurled at police. There were fires set, in not only St. John’s Church, but a historic building at Lafayette was burned down,” he said.

He said these incidents prompted the Park Police on May 31 to prepare a plan “to clear H Street and put ... a larger perimeter around the White House so they could build a more permanent fence on Lafayette.” He added that he gave the green light to the plan at 2 p.m. the next day.

“Police have to move protesters, sometimes peaceful demonstrators, for a short distance in order to accomplish public safety. And that’s what was done here,” Barr said.

The decision to clear the square prompted Black Lives Matter D.C. and several protesters to sue the Trump administration (pdf) for allegedly ordering the law enforcement personnel to carry out directives that violated their free speech and other constitutional rights.