Watchdog: Park Police Used Excessive Force Against Media During 2020 Protest Crackdown

·4 min read

Two U.S. Park Police officers used excessive force against members of the media during the violent crackdown at Lafayette Square in Washington in June 2020, according to a new report from the Interior Department’s internal watchdog.

The investigation by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General focused exclusively on a June 1, 2020, confrontation between Park Police officers and two Australian journalists who were covering protests outside the White House during the nationwide demonstrations against police brutality following the May 25, 2020, police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Video of the incident showed one officer violently striking cameraman Tim Myers in the stomach with the edge of a police shield, then shoving the camera toward Myers’ face. A second officer then strikes Amelia Brace, a correspondent at 7 Network Australia, in the back with a baton as she and Myers try to run away.

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The Interior Department’s watchdog concluded that both officers violated U.S. Park Police policy, which requires officers to be “objectively reasonable” in their use of force. The officers are not named in the report.

“Officer 1’s first use of force (shield strike) against the Cinematographer complied with USPP policy, but we could not make the same finding with respect to Officer 1’s second use of force (camera push) because it did not appear that Officer 1 employed the ‘minimum level of reasonable force necessary to control [the] situation,’” reads the report. “Officer 2’s baton strike against the Reporter did not comply with USPP policy because the policy does not permit an officer to use his baton to strike a retreating individual who is following officers’ orders to leave the area, an individual who no longer poses a threat to the officer or others, and where no situation authorizing the use of a baton strike otherwise exists.”

The report concluded the first officer’s shield strike did not constitute excessive force due to the cameraman’s position behind a wall and the perceived threat to the officer. 

“Given these circumstances, we determined that a reasonable officer on the scene could have concluded that a defensive use of force, such as a shield strike, against an unknown individual who appeared to be hiding and whose hands the officer could not see, may have been necessary to defend himself or other officers against a possible attack,” the inspector general wrote. 

Myers and Brace both suffered minor injuries. At a congressional hearing in September 2020, Brace described being “physically assaulted” by police while broadcasting live for hundreds of thousands of people. 

“I’ve been shocked to see how many journalists have been attacked, beaten and detained just for doing their jobs,” she told U.S. lawmakers.

Wednesday’s report notes that the U.S. Park Police conducted its own probe of the officers’ use of force and referred its findings to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which ultimately declined to prosecute. 

In an email statement, USPP Chief Jessica Taylor said she appreciated the inspector general’s office’s thorough investigation and was reviewing the final report. 

“Consistent with USPP policy, following the completion of the OIG report this matter was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to recommend any corrective actions, including disciplinary actions, if warranted,” Taylor said.

The aggressive police crackdown at Lafayette Square came amid nationwide protests over the police killing of Floyd and other recent deaths and injuries of Black Americans at the hands of police. Shortly after law enforcement cleared the park of largely peaceful protesters using chemical irritants, pepper balls and batons, then-President Donald Trump made his way through the square to a historic church for a photo-op. Manycondemned the police operation as an attack on free speech and civil rights.

President Donald Trump holds up a Bible on June 1, 2020, outside St John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House after the park had been aggressively cleared of protesters.
President Donald Trump holds up a Bible on June 1, 2020, outside St John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House after the park had been aggressively cleared of protesters.

President Donald Trump holds up a Bible on June 1, 2020, outside St John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House after the park had been aggressively cleared of protesters.

Dozens of law enforcement officers and an unknown number of protesters were injured in the confrontation. 

In testimony before a House committee weeks after the event, Acting U.S. Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan told lawmakers that law enforcement had acted with “tremendous restraint” to de-escalate a violent situation and that there was “zero correlation between our operation and the president’s visit to the church.”

A separate report from the Interior Department’s inspector general in June 2021 found that U.S. Park Police did not clear Lafayette Square for Trump’s photo-op but rather to allow for a contractor to safely erect new fencing in response to destruction of property and clashes the two previous days.

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