Inspector general faults Park Police in 2020 protest response
Officers exceeded limits for the use of force, according to report
Two U.S. Park Police officers broke department protocol by striking and pushing a videographer and reporter together covering protests against police violence in the summer of 2020, a federal watchdog found.
The inspector general for the Interior Department said in a report issued Wednesday the officers violated the police department’s policy that governs what level of force officers are permitted to use in their jobs, including in managing large crowds.
The police agency also has no clear definition of what constitutes a “minimum level of reasonable force,” the report said.
Both officers, who received training in 2019 about how to use force, were part of a forceful sweep by law enforcement agencies of Lafayette Park, north of the White House, on June 1, 2020, of protestors demonstrating against the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota days prior.
As part of that action, one officer pushed against the photographer’s camera and the other officer struck the reporter with a baton, damaging a camera lens and leading to physical therapy for “injuries due to ongoing ‘pain and discomfort,’” the reporter said, according to the inspector general.
Jessica Taylor, chief of the USPP, in a statement said the report was “thorough” and she was reviewing it. The matter has been referred to the department’s office responsible for internal affairs to “recommend any corrective actions, including disciplinary actions, if warranted,” Taylor said.
Taylor became chief this month following stints working in federal law enforcement, including at the EPA’s criminal division.
The report marks the latest peek into the police agency, tasked with monitoring federal sites in New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., which has had a tumultuous run in recent years.
Before Park Police officers were part of the aggressive clearing of Lafayette Park during the Trump administration, officers for the agency in 2017 pursued and shot a 25-year-old man in Virginia, Bijan Ghaisar, who was unarmed after fleeing a traffic accident.
The U.S. government agreed in April to pay $5 million in a settlement to the family.
Park Police officers also responded to the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a subject the Interior inspector general is investigating.
Under a federal settlement reached in April 2022, the USPP and the U.S. Secret Service, which also cleared Lafayette Park of protestors in June 2020, agreed to update their policies about public demonstrations.
The inspector general’s office referred its report to National Park Service Director Chuck Sams.
Leaders at the USPP have defended their officers’ behavior on June 1, 2020, pointing to more than 50 injured officers in anti-police violence protests in the days preceding the incident.
Witnesses there that day told members of Congress they did not hear police warnings to disperse.
A 2015 legal settlement requires federal police to issue three clear and loud warnings to protestors before they enter the crowd.
"Anyone who's seen the disturbing footage of the Park Police's brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors on June 1 knows it was anything but reasonable," Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement following the report. "This report finally provides the proof that federal officers used excessive force that day, but I'm deeply concerned that Interior's police-investigating-police practice, and unclear use-of-force policies and training, are enabling a circumvention of accountability.”
The lack of clarity in what constitutes “reasonable” force “could result in ambiguity and lack of certainty in future investigations,” Grijalva said.