The federal agents who cleared Lafayette Park of Black Lives Matter protesters last summer did not use tear gas, according to an Interior Department inspector general report this week.
Instead, it was the Metropolitan Police Department that used the tear gas nearby.
“We determined, and the MPD confirmed, that the MPD used CS gas on 17th Street,” the report states. “We found no evidence that the USPP [U.S. Park Police] and the law enforcement entities operating under the unified command deployed CS gas during the clearing of Lafayette Park.”
The report does note that federal agents could have used smoke as they cleared the area.
MPD spokeswoman Alaina Gertz said individuals near 17th and H streets threw objects at police and one officer was burned. In response, the MPD deployed tear gas “in an effort to stop the riotous behavior and protect both officers and others in the area,” she said.
The inspector general exonerated former President Donald Trump of accusations that his administration ordered the removal of protesters at Lafayette Park last year so he could walk from the White House to a nearby church for a photo op.
The IG report says the U.S. Park Service had the authority to disperse the protesters and did so to construct a fence, which was completed by 12:30 a.m. the following day.
“We found that the USPP had the authority and discretion to clear Lafayette Park and the surrounding areas on June 1,” the IG report says.
Media pundits were quick to criticize the federal agents and the former president for the heavy-handed response against the activists.
On June 1, Mr. Trump walked from the White House across Lafayette Park to St. John’s Episcopal Church, which earlier had been partially set on fire during protests.
The activists had gathered in Lafayette Park near the White House days earlier for racial justice protests following George Floyd’s death.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued members of the Trump administration after the incident, alleging the president and his team conspired to violate the constitutional rights of protesters.
They claimed the officers attacked them with tear gas and weapons. The case is still pending.
The Metropolitan Police Department is also named as a defendant.
Attorneys for the District argued that the case should be dismissed and that the use of tear gas in the area by MPD was reasonable. The court filing also said the police did not conspire with the federal agents.
“Given the totality of the circumstances here, defendants’ alleged application of force was not unreasonable,” the court filing reads.
Scott Michelman, legal director for the ACLU of the District of Columbia, said the government has given “conflicting explanations for the shocking act on civil rights demonstrators.”
The Justice Department originally said former Attorney General William Barr gave the order to disperse the protesters, he noted.
“These shifting explanations cannot distract from the fundamental problem: The force used against the demonstrators at Lafayette Square was grossly excessive,” said Mr. Michelman.