The head of the U.S. Park Police defended the officers under his command for aggressively clearing a group of largely peaceful protesters away from the White House on June 1, telling a House committee Tuesday that the use of force was appropriate.
He denied that the operation was linked to a presidential photo opportunity and said radio records of the department’s activities for the incident do not exist.
Gregory Monahan, acting chief of the Park Police, told the House Natural Resources Committee that the order to clear Lafayette Square did not come from the White House, Attorney General William Barr or Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
“We did not clear the park for a photo op,” Monahan said, drawing skeptical responses from Democrats.
President Donald Trump walked through the park to St. John’s Episcopal Church to hold up a Bible in front of television cameras about 30 minutes after the Park Police led the push to clear the area, with mounted units and on foot.
The police response matched the violence of protesters, Monahan said. The demonstration, he said, was “one of the most violent” he has seen.
Monahan said there is no audio record of the events of June 1, a break from standard procedure that he called an “error” and attributed to mistakes by radio technicians two years ago. There is a written department log of the clearing of the park, he said.
Monahan’s appearance before the House panel marked the first time he or any official with the Park Police, a federal agency, has spoken publicly about the forceful clearing of demonstrators from Lafayette Square that day.
He appeared before another witness, Adam DeMarco, a major in the D.C. National Guard who was present for the clearing, described it as “deeply disturbing.” DeMarco said it was an “unnecessary escalation” of force against the public and citizens exercising their constitutional rights.
Park Police officers used pepper balls, smoke canisters, stinger balls, batons and riot shields against the public.
The inspectors general of the Interior and Justice departments are investigating federal police activities in recent weeks, including the Lafayette Square actions.
Monahan said the Park Police discovered on June 10 that the radio channel the department typically uses to record during large-scale demonstrations, such as the protests in the nation’s capital, did not record on June 1.
“For our normal operations, yes, but not for the special event and demonstration at the White House,” he told Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M.
“Why is that?” Haaland asked.
Monahan called the omission an error and said there are written logs of the day.
“I would imagine having that recording would answer many of the questions that we and the public have at this moment,” Haaland replied.
The Trump administration has repeatedly described the demonstrations in the wake of the May police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, as violent and chaotic and leading to widespread injuries of federal officers.
Yet videos of the June 1 crowds in Lafayette Square show protesters were broadly peaceful. Monahan said only one USPP officer suffered an injury that day after protesters punched the officer in the face, leaving a cut.
DeMarco also said the protests were peaceful and that he did not feel threatened.
Park Police officers do not use body cameras to record their work, and the chief, after questions from Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., D-Va., did not commit to supporting their use.
A Beyer amendment to a House spending package would provide $5 million to the Interior Department to ensure the use of body cameras by law enforcement at the agency, including at the U.S. Park Police. The National Park Service, another division of the Interior Department, also employs police officers.