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Despite Evidence, Park Police Chief Says ‘Tremendous Restraint’ Was Used in Lafayette Clash

2020-07-29 05:15:13

WASHINGTON — Confronted by lawmakers multiple times with videos of Park Police officers advancing on protesters and beating reporters in Lafayette Square last month, Gregory T. Monahan, the force’s acting chief, refused on Tuesday to acknowledge the violent clashes and testified that his officers acted with “tremendous restraint.”

Mr. Monahan and the Park Police are being scrutinized for their role in the June 1 crackdown on protests in front of the White House, during which mounted police officers and officers in riot gear advanced on demonstrators with flash grenades and tear gas just before President Trump marched across the area to stage a photo op.

An Army National Guard officer who also testified on Tuesday as part of the House Natural Resources Committee’s investigation of the clash said the Park Police subjected protesters to “excessive use of force.”

Mr. Monahan told lawmakers that his officers were met with “severe violence from a large group of bad actors” and that the response “centered around public safety.” But pressed repeatedly to square his remarks with evidence captured during the demonstrations that his officers attacked protesters, Mr. Monahan demurred.

Representative Mike Levin, Democrat of California, played a video of protesters running away from advancing police officers in riot gear. It showed officers, in what became a widely circulated clip, attacking an Australian news crew, punching and hitting the cameraman with a shield and hitting a reporter on the back with a truncheon as she ran away.

“The officers you saw in those clips, were they surging against the crowd and assaulting a news crew, yes or no?” Mr. Levin asked.

“The video shows a moment in time,” Mr. Monahan replied, adding that he would not comment on whether his officers attacked reporters, citing a continuing investigation.

In another instance, Representative Jared Huffman, Democrat of California, played a video published by The Washington Post of police officers issuing an inaudible warning to protesters to clear the park and confused protesters asking one another what the police had said. Asked by Mr. Huffman if he could hear the warning, Mr. Monahan testified that he could.

“You must have superhuman hearing, because I don’t think any of us could hear it,” Mr. Huffman replied.

Mr. Monahan said his force moved appropriately to quell the protesters in Lafayette Square, calling the episode “one of the most violent protests that I’ve been a part of in my 23 years” in the Park Police. He described what he called the “unprecedented and sustained nature of violence and destruction” in which demonstrators lobbed fireworks, bricks and planks of wood at the police. He told lawmakers that 50 of his officers were injured in the protests in front of the White House, though he acknowledged that one officer was harmed on June 1, and not until after the crackdown began.

“I believe the United States Park Police acted with tremendous restraint in the face of severe violence from a large group of bad actors,” Mr. Monahan said.

Republicans on the committee accused Democrats of spearheading a partisan investigation.

“This is a hearing about politics, and I apologize to you and the rest of the officers in the United States Park Police for having to endure a political attack,” Representative Bruce Westerman, Republican of Arkansas, told Mr. Monahan.

Maj. Adam DeMarco, an Iraq war veteran who serves in the District of Columbia National Guard and was on the ground in Lafayette Square on June 1, also testified on Tuesday, telling lawmakers that “at no time” did he “feel threatened by the protesters or assess them to be violent.”

“From my observation, those demonstrators — our fellow American citizens — were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights,” Major DeMarco said. “Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”

Attorney General William P. Barr, who testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and was pressed by lawmakers about the June 1 clash, took his own swipe at Major DeMarco, noting that he ran as a Democratic House candidate in 2018.

“I don’t remember Captain DeMarco, who is the same Captain DeMarco who ran as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Maryland, even being close to the discussions as to what was going on,” Mr. Barr said.


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