National Guard Officer Says Excessive Force Used to Clear Lafayette Square in D.C.
By Byron Tau
WASHINGTON—A National Guard officer testified that federal law-enforcement officers used tear gas to clear a largely peaceful crowd from Lafayette Square in June, contradicting accounts from law-enforcement officials about the nature of the protest in the park.
Maj. Adam DeMarco, who was serving at the time as a liaison between federal law enforcement and the Washington D.C. National Guard, told the Democrat-led House Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that the events he witnessed after law-enforcement officials ordered the area cleared were “deeply disturbing.”
“Based on my training and experience, at no time did I feel threatened by the protests or assess them to be violent,” Maj. DeMarco said. “And based on established military protocols concerning proportionality of force and dealing with civil disturbances both within the United States and overseas, it was my observation that the use of force in the clearing operation was an unnecessarily escalation of the use of force.”
“Those demonstrators—our fellow American citizens—were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights, yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and an excessive use of force,” Maj. DeMarco told the panel.
In late May and early June, Lafayette Square emerged as the center of protests in Washington, D.C., prompted by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. On June 1, the U.S. Park Police cleared the park by force shortly before President Trump made a visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church, which is adjacent to the park.
Park Police officials initially denied employing tear gas, but now say they used “chemical irritants” in the park. They have denied that the clearing of the park was linked to Mr. Trump’s visit.
At the time, a curfew was in effect for D.C., requiring people to be in their homes by 7 p.m. The Park Police cleared the park about 30 minutes before the curfew went into effect, saying that it was necessary to install fencing to better control the protests. Maj. DeMarco said the fencing didn’t arrive until more than two hours after the park was cleared.
The House Natural Resources Committee also heard testimony from acting Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan. The committee has jurisdiction over the Interior Department, of which the Park Police is a part.
“The use of force that the United States Park Police used on June 1 was in line with our policies and procedures.” Mr. Monahan said in his testimony, noting that numerous officers had been injured in the course of protests.
“This is one of the most violent protests that I’ve been a part of in my 23 years with the United States Park Police,” he said.
Maj. DeMarco was invited to testify before Congress under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, a law that allows military officials to bring forward allegations of wrongdoing. He is a former U.S. Army officer who served in Iraq. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat in 2018 in Maryland.
SOURCE : WALL STREET JOURNAL