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Park Police head defends clearing of Lafayette Park

By
Don Jacobson & Danielle Haynes
U.S. Park Police acting Chief Gregory Monahan prepares to testify about the June 1 confrontation with protesters at Lafayette Square near the White House during a House natural resources committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Pool Photo by Bill Clark/UPI
U.S. Park Police acting Chief Gregory Monahan prepares to testify about the June 1 confrontation with protesters at Lafayette Square near the White House during a House natural resources committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Pool Photo by Bill Clark/UPI | License Photo

July 28 (UPI) -- The head of the U.S. Park Police told Congress on Tuesday that no one from the White House ordered protesters be cleared from Lafayette Square last month, but a National Guard officer said he found the forceful removal "disturbing."

The Park Police representative, Gregory Monahan, defended the agency's actions June 1 when officers moved the demonstrators away from the park, which is directly in front of the White House. He spoke during a House natural resources committee hearing.

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Park Police and National Guard troops fired tear gas and pepper balls at protesters in the square right before President Donald Trump walked to St. John's Episcopal Church to pose for photos of him holding a Bible.

Monahan denied that the clearing of protesters and Trump's visit to the church were linked.

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"We did not clear the park for a photo op," he said.

"The United States Park Police acted with tremendous restraint in the face of severe violence from a large group of bad actors that again caused 50 of my officers to seek medical attention," Monahan said.

"Our operation was solely centered around the clearing of H Street and the north end of Lafayette Park to de-escalate the sustained level of violence that we saw over the previous three days and then again on June 1.

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But National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco contradicted Monahan's description of the protesters as violent and that the dispersal wasn't sped up to make way for Trump.

"From what I could observe, the demonstrators were behaving peacefully, exercising their First Amendment rights," DeMarco said in a prepared statement ahead of the hearing.

DeMarco, who acted as a liaison between the National Guard's "Task Force Civil Disturbance" and the Park Police at Lafayette Square, said the clearing of protesters occurred before a scheduled 7 p.m. curfew.

"At around 6:20 pm, after the attorney general and General [Mark] Milley departed Lafayette Square, the Park Police issued the first of three warning announcements to the demonstrators, directing them to disperse. I did not expect the announcements so early," his testimony states.

"At approximately 6:30 pm, the Park Police began the clearing operation."

Trump's subsequent appearance and walk to St. John's Episcopal Church was not announced to the National Guard, he said.

DeMarco also notes that Milley, who has previously said he regrets appearing at the event with Trump, said the National Guardsmen were there to protect property and the demonstrators.

"Gen. Milley told me to ensure that National Guard personnel remained calm, adding that we were there to respect the demonstrators' First Amendment rights," he said.

Barr said three days after the incident that "there was no correlation between our tactical plan of moving the perimeter out by one block and the president's going over to the church."

In his opening statement, DeMarco says he was disturbed by what he saw.

"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," he states.

"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."

Barr also is testifying in Congress on Tuesday, before the House judiciary committee, on Justice Department oversight. In his opening statement, Barr denounced the violent protests.

"What unfolds nightly around the courthouse cannot reasonably be called a protest; it is, by any objective measure, an assault on the government of the United States," he said.

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