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National Guard official to testify about 'unprovoked escalation' against protesters

A man holds a sign in Black Lives Matter Plaza while standing in front of the General Andrew Jackson Statue in Lafayette Square late last month. File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI
A man holds a sign in Black Lives Matter Plaza while standing in front of the General Andrew Jackson Statue in Lafayette Square late last month. File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

July 27 (UPI) -- A National Guard officer will testify Tuesday to Park Police's 'unprovoked escalation' against protesters in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on June 1.

National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco prepared a written statement for his testimony on the incident before the House Committee on Natural Resources on Tuesday.

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DeMarco was deployed to Lafayette Square outside the White House on June 1 as a liaison between the D.C. National Guard's "Task Force Civil Disturbance," with approximately 250 personnel from the D.C. National Guard and the Park Police. The D.C. National Guard's mission was to support the Park Police.

On the evening of June 1, witnesses said, the Park Police and D.C. National Guard fired smoke canisters and pepper balls at protesters to allow President Donald Trump to walk through the area and visit the shuttered St. John's Episcopal Church for a photo opportunity in which he held a Bible.

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DeMarco said in his statement that no National Guardsmen were armed with lethal or non-lethal munition that evening, but Park Police had tear gas canisters.

"Members of the Committee, the events I witnessed at Lafayette Square on the evening of June 1 were deeply disturbing to me, and to fellow National Guardsmen," DeMarco said in his statement.

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"Having served in a combat zone, and understanding how to assess threat environments, at no time did I feel threatened by the protesters or assess them to be violent.

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"In addition, considering the principles of proportionality of force and the fundamental strategy of graduated responses specific to civil disturbance operations, it was my observation that the use of force against demonstrators in the clearing operation was an unnecessary escalation of the use of force.

"From my observation, those demonstrators -- our fellow American citizens -- were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights. Yet, they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force."

He added that he was inspired to speak out because of something the late Rep. John Lewis once said: "When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something."

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Although curfew wasn't until 7 p.m., Park Police began to issue warnings for the crowd of approximately 2,000 people to disperse, from near the statue of President Andrew Jackson approximately 50 yards from the demonstrators, about 6:20 p.m., DeMarco said in his statement.

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Since warnings were barely audible from where he was standing, approximately 20 yards away from them, DeMarco said he did not believe the protesters were aware of warnings to disperse.

When the Park Police began to remove protesters from Lafayette Square in front of the White House, DeMarco saw smoke,, which he said he was told was "stage smoke," but he could feel irritation in his eyes and nose. Based on previous training, he recognized the irritation as consistent with tear gas.

DeMarco said the D.C. National Guard's job was to move behind the Park Police as it cleared the perimeter, and no National Guard personnel participated in the used of force against the protesters in Lafayette Square.

He also said that he observed unidentified law enforcement personnel behind the National Guardsmen using "paintball-like" weapons to fire "pepper balls" into the crowd.

The June 1 protest came amid many nationwide demanding justice after the police-involved killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day.

DeMarco's testimony will follow other testimony about the incident, including an Australian television journalist, Amelia Brace, who testified that she and a cameraman were shoved with a riot shield.

Brace also said that a Park Police officer grabbed a camera lens and struck her colleague in the neck with a rubber bullet.

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Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, testified that the clearing probably was lawful, but the committee would have to examine "the rapid escalation of force" and decide whether the means used exceeded the intent of the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia last month on behalf of Black Lives Matter D.C. and individual protesters in the district.

The plaintiffs argued that both First and Fourth amendment rights were violated when U.S. law enforcement agents fire tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash bombs to force them and other peaceful protesters to disperse from near the White House that day.

The Justice Department inspector general announced Thursday the opening of an investigation into the use of force by federal law enforcement agents on protesters in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said earlier this month it's unclear who gave the order to disperse protesters in Lafayette Square.

On June 11, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley apologized for his role in the photo opportunity on June 1. A day before Milley apologized, hundreds of former Justice Department employees called for a probe of Attorney General William Barr's involvement in the police action at Lafayette Square.

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