Park Police, Secret Service reach settlement over 2020 protests

Park Police officers will be required to display badges and nameplates, under the deal

Police officers in riot gear stand in front of the White House as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd in Washington on Sunday, May 31, 2020.  (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call photo)
Police officers in riot gear stand in front of the White House as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd in Washington on Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call photo)
Posted April 13, 2022 at 7:57pm

The U.S. Park Police and the U.S. Secret Service will update their policies governing protests and enact the changes within 30 days as part of a settlement tied to the violent police clearing of protestors from Lafayette Square near the White House on June 1, 2020, federal prosecutors said.

As part of the settlement announced Wednesday, the law enforcement agencies would “update and clarify their policies governing demonstrations,” the Justice Department said.

In response, the civil rights group Black Lives Matter D.C. and protestors who attended the demonstrations against police violence on June 1, 2020, agreed to withdraw their claims against the federal government, prosecutors said.

“These changes to agency policies for protest responses will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a news release.

Black Lives Matter D.C. did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Left unclear by the announcement were the number and identities of individuals who withdrew their claims.

The settlement comes nearly two years after protestors gathered to demonstrate against police brutality, including the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

After the Park Police, Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies aggressively cleared demonstrators from Lafayette Square with chemical gases, batons, horses and riot shields, former President Donald Trump walked from the White House to the square across the street where he posed for a photo opportunity at St. John’s Church.

The inspector general of the Interior Department, the parent agency of the Park Police, found the clearing of the park was not deliberately planned for Trump’s visit to the church.

Under the deal announced Wednesday, the Park Police officers will be required to clearly display their badges and nameplates, DOJ said.

The department will also implement new rules governing its use of “non-lethal force” and adopt steps for clearing protesters from public areas and issuing warnings to crowds to disperse.

The Secret Service will change “its policies to provide that the fact that some demonstrators have engaged in unlawful conduct does not ordinarily provide blanket grounds for use of force, crowd dispersal or declaration of unlawful assembly,” the Justice Department said.

Adam DeMarco, a National Guard officer present at the June 1 clearing, told the House Natural Resources Committee in July 2020 that Park Police officers and members of other law enforcement agencies used heavy-handed tactics to move protestors, including by using “their shields offensively as weapons.”

DeMarco and other witnesses, including protestor Kishon McDonald and Australian news reporter Amelia Brace, said they did not hear police directions to clear the park.

Lafayette Square is one of many federal sites protected by the Park Police.

“We hope this updated policy can serve as a model for others to uphold civil rights and facilitate safe demonstrations,” Chuck Sams, the director of the National Park Service, said in a statement. “It is good for the public and good for our officers.”

House Natural Resources is still investigating the events of June 1, 2020, Lindsay Gressard, a spokesperson for the committee, said Wednesday.

“We’ve all seen the video footage from that day — peaceful protesters who were demonstrating their constitutional right to speak out against centuries of systemic racism and racial subjugation were intimidated, attacked, and assaulted by officers of their own federal government," Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the committee, said in a statement Wednesday evening. "The Park Police needs more than just a few policy changes, but I’ll concede this is a welcome start.”

The Park Police in 2021 named Pamela Smith, a Black woman and a veteran of more than two decades of the department, to lead it.

The former head of the department, Gregory Monahan, defended Park Police officers over their tactics, describing the demonstration as “one of the most violent” he had seen.

Audio recordings of the police activities on June 1 were missing, he told Congress in July 2020, an “error” he attributed to mistakes radio technicians made.