Congress has be­gun in­ves­ti­gat­ing the tac­tics fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cers used to clear pro­test­ers near Lafayette Square ear­lier this month.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARISSA J. LANG marissa.lang@wash­post.com

Congress on Mon­day be­gan to in­ves­ti­gate tac­tics used by fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cers to clear pro­test­ers near Lafayette Square ahead of Pres­i­dent Trump’s photo op in front of the pale yel­low fa­cade of St. John’s Epis­co­pal Church.

Pro­test­ers, jour­nal­ists and wit­nesses who were caught in clouds of chem­i­cal ir­ri­tants, hit with po­lice ba­tons, pelted by pro­jec­tiles and shoved with riot shields de­scribed their ex­pe­ri­ences and in­juries to law­mak­ers, whose con­fi­dence in po­lice of­fi­cers’ tac­tics seemed to splin­ter along party lines.

The hear­ings be­fore the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee were the first of sev­eral, with law­mak­ers sig­nal­ing they have more ques­tions about the types of weapons used and whether fed­eral po­lice of­fi­cers is­sued ver­bal warn­ings be­fore launch­ing stun grenades and chem­i­cal ir­ri­tants into the crowd.

None of the wit­nesses heard ver­bal warn­ings is­sued, they tes­ti­fied. But in a let­ter to law­mak­ers, Park Po­lice said three warn­ings were given — us­ing a crowd con­trol de­vice known as LRAD, a Long Range Acous­tic De­vice, for con­vey­ing crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion across large dis­tances. The de­vice, of­ten used to or­der evac­u­a­tions dur­ing nat­u­ral disas­ters, also can emit sounds at a deci­bel and fre­quency so un­pleas­ant that it can dis­perse crowds.

No mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion were called to tes­tify. Park Po­lice of­fi­cials, who led the charge against pro­test­ers on June 1, de­clined to at­tend, law­mak­ers said, be­cause one pro­tester called to speak is part of a fed­eral law­suit al­leg­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion au­tho­rized an “un­pro­voked and frankly crim­i­nal at­tack” on de­mon­stra­tors en­gag­ing in their First Amend­ment right to protest.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers played sev­eral videos fea­tur­ing prop­erty de­struc­tion — in­clud­ing pro­test­ers top­pling the statue of Al­bert Pike, a Con­fed­er­ate of­fi­cer, from its pedestal near Ju­di­ciary Square, on June 19. They pointed to such in­ci­dents as ev­i­dence the demon­stra­tions were not “peace­ful” in na­ture — al­though many hap­pened long after June 1.

Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor Jonathan Tur­ley, who was called to tes­tify as a le­gal ex­pert, said that al­though fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cers prob­a­bly had the right to clear the park, it is less clear whether the man­ner they chose was law­ful.

Less than an hour be­fore the District’s 7 p.m. cur­few — in­sti­tuted as a re­sponse to loot­ing and ar­son around the city amid demon­stra­tions on pre­vi­ous nights —

hun­dreds of pro­test­ers were gath­ered on H Street NW. Jour­nal­ists, clergy and hu­man­i­tar­ian vol­un­teers pass­ing out wa­ter and masks to pro­tect against the still-rag­ing coro­n­avirus wan­dered through the crowd as Park Po­lice and Na­tional Guard mem­bers, wield­ing shields that said “Mil­i­tary Po­lice,” lined up be­hind bar­ri­cades.

Pro­test­ers chanted in uni­son and held signs aloft. Some played mu­sic while oth­ers danced and bopped in place. At least one per­son brought an easel to paint the scene.

About 6:30 p.m., after At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam P. Barr was seen walk­ing through the park, of­fi­cers be­gan to move closer.

Chaos broke out as fed­eral of­fi­cers charged down H Street, push­ing de­mon­stra­tors east­ward with shields and ba­tons. Law en­force­ment fired rub­ber pel­lets

at flee­ing de­mon­stra­tors, re­leased caus­tic gas and threw ex­plod­ing stun grenades into the crowd.

Pro­test­ers fled from of­fi­cers ad­vanc­ing on foot and horse­back — many still hold­ing their hands up, shout­ing, “Don’t shoot!” Oth­ers wretched, chok­ing on clouds of chem­i­cals in the air. Many pulled off masks as they coughed and wiped away tears.

For some, the chaos played out on split-screen television broad­casts as the pres­i­dent strode to the front of St. John’s Epis­co­pal Church and de­liv­ered re­marks for a gag­gle of cam­eras.

Kis­hon Mcdon­ald, a Navy vet­eran who joined the June 1 protest after tak­ing his daily run, tes­ti­fied that the protest was peace­ful and calm when of­fi­cers be­gan to ad­vance and fire into the crowd. He re­called feel­ing some­thing ex­plode near his an­kle as he and oth­ers re­treated from the line of po­lice.

“It was ex­ces­sive force,” said Mcdon­ald, who com­pared his ex­pe­ri­ence at the protest to be­ing sub­jected to tear gas dur­ing mil­i­tary train­ing ex­er­cises. “We weren’t pre­pared for that. They shouldn’t have used [tear gas] on pro­test­ers — they’re not sol­diers.”

Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist Amelia Brace tes­ti­fied that she and a col­league cried “me­dia” as of­fi­cers punched their cam­era and shot at them with rub­ber bul­lets. Tur­ley told law­mak­ers that the in­ci­dent, which was caught on video, ap­peared “en­tirely un­jus­ti­fied and un­law­ful.”

Demo­cratic law­mak­ers pointed to Trump’s re­marks as the rea­son law en­force­ment of­fi­cers had de­ployed such ag­gres­sive tac­tics, but Repub­li­cans said the tim­ing was a co­in­ci­dence — the U.S. Se­cret Ser­vice had for days been plan­ning to in­stall a large fence along H Street that wrapped around Lafayette Square, and of­fi­cials needed to clear the area.

Gre­gory T. Mon­a­han, the act­ing Park Po­lice chief, is­sued a state­ment ear­lier this month that de­tailed in­ci­dents in which he said more than 50 of­fi­cers were hurt dur­ing protests, which be­gan May 29.

Mon­a­han said pro­test­ers had thrown “pro­jec­tiles, in­clud­ing bricks, frozen wa­ter bot­tles and caus­tic liq­uids” at of­fi­cers. At Mon­day’s hear­ing, Repub­li­can law­mak­ers said some pro­test­ers had thrown bot­tles of urine at po­lice and shot off fire­works dur­ing demon­stra­tions.

Mon­a­han has said Park Po­lice did not use tear gas to dis­perse the crowd.

MICHAEL REYNOLDS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

BON­NIE CASH/POOL/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Kis­hon Mcdon­ald, top left, who was at the June 1 protest near Lafayette Square tes­ti­fies with Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor Jonathan Tur­ley and Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist Amelia Brace, above, be­fore the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee on Mon­day.

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