Federal Watchdog Will Probe Violent Routing at Lafayette Square

The Department of the Interior will investigate the violent eviction of civil rights protesters from Lafayette Square on June 1.

Police rout demonstrators from Lafayette Square with tear gas on June 1. (AP file photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — An Interior Department watchdog office will investigate law enforcement and security forces’ violent clearing of protesters from Lafayette Square in front of the White House earlier this month.

The Interior Department’s U.S. Park Police and other forces released chemical agents and punched and clubbed a largely peaceful of crowd of demonstrators to drive them from Lafayette Square on June 1, during nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

Three Democratic lawmakers — Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Debra Haaland of New Mexico — have asked Interior Department Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt to investigate the actions that night of the Park Police, who oversee the nation’s national monuments.

Greenblatt agreed late last week, telling the lawmakers that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had also asked for the review.

“Given the significance of the events, we have already begun collecting and reviewing information concerning the Park Police’s activities,” he said.

The agency’s first task will be determining which of the many agencies was in charge of law enforcement in the square that night, Greenblatt said. That “adds complex and jurisdictional challenges” to the watchdog office’s work, he wrote.

Authorities have given conflicting accounts about who oversaw and ordered the forceful routing of protesters from Lafayette Square. Besides a range of law officers, the Secret Service and Attorney General William Barr were among those present at various times.

Forces drove the crowd from the square shortly before President Trump stood in front of a church holding a Bible to pose for photos for about 3 minutes.

The administration has denied demonstrators were cleared out to make way for Trump. Bernhardt, the interior secretary, has said violent attacks by the crowd warranted clearing the protesters. Reporters, other witnesses and Democratic lawmakers say they saw little sign of that scale of violence by the crowd.


By ELLEN KNICKMEYER

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