Lawmakers Grill Guard Officer on Claims Police Used Excessive Force on DC Protesters
A Washington, D.C., National Guard major who testified before Congress on Tuesday faced tough questions about his description of the June 1 "attack on peaceful protesters" — an account that directly contradicted testimony from the chief of the U.S. Park Police.
Lawmakers from the House Committee on Natural Resources held the hearing to ask questions about the events surrounding the June 1 clearing operation, which involved Park Police launching tear gas and pepper balls at crowds of demonstrators roughly 25 minutes before a 7 p.m. curfew.
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Beginning May 29, crowds of demonstrators, protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, turned violent in D.C.'s Lafayette Square and resorted to throwing projectiles at National Guard members and police as they threatened to push past barricades near the White House.
"Protesters were also physically combative with members of law enforcement," Gregory Monahan, acting chief of the Park Police, testified at the hearing. "These violent protesters caused injuries to over 50 officers of the United States Park Police. Of those, 11 officers were transported to the hospital, and three were ultimately admitted."
Monahan stated on several occasions during the hearing that Park Police were subjected to violence from the protesters on June 1 before the clearing operation began at roughly 6:35 p.m.
"On June 1st and throughout that operational period, we saw sustained violence from a number of bad actors in Lafayette Park and on H Street," Monahan said. He later added that only one Park Police officer was injured June 1, during the clearing operation.
D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco, who served as a liaison between Guard forces and Park Police on June 1, testified that the demonstrators he saw that evening were peaceful and that the police clearing operation was an "unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force."
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, questioned DeMarco's statement that the Guard was on the ground to respect demonstrators' First Amendment rights.
"Was that the order that was given to you guys in the National Guard — get out there and your job is to respect the demonstrators' First Amendment rights?" he asked. "Who gave that order?"
DeMarco replied that Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the statement to Guard troops that evening.
"[That] is the same chairman of the Joint Chiefs that went out and criticized the president of the United States. This is a different military than the one I served in," Gohmert said. "You felt the need to come and testify differently from what we have heard from people within the administration and others that were out there."
Many of the questions posed to DeMarco were political in nature, with Democrats opposing the Trump administration's justification of the clearing operation and Republicans supporting it.
Republicans also pointed out that DeMarco ran for Congress in 2018 on the Democratic ticket.
DeMarco testified that no National Guard personnel participated in the push or engaged in any other use of force against the demonstrators, but Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, asked how watching the events of June 1 "affected you personally as an officer in the National Guard."
"In the days following June 1, I struggled to process exactly what happened ... to the point where I was sleeping very little," DeMarco answered. "I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what."
DeMarco said he confided in several officers in the D.C. Guard as well as other friends that he had served with, both on active duty and in the Guard, before writing his sworn statement of the events, which a fellow officer signed as well.
"It was shortly thereafter I started reaching out and seeing what could be done because I truly felt compelled that I had to say something," he added.
Park Police have come under criticism since the operation because it preceded President Donald Trump's public photo op and speech near St. John's Episcopal Church.
Monahan testified that, on the night of May 30 into the morning May 31, Park Police worked with the Secret Service to develop a plan to temporarily restrict access to Lafayette Park and the adjacent streets and sidewalks by ordering and installing no-scale fencing across the north side of the park.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-California, questioned Monahan on this point.
"Shortly after the clearing finished in a fast pace and rushed manner ... about 30 minutes later, the president was having his photo op at about 7:05 p.m.," Lowenthal said. "Now I need to understand — either the clearing was for a photo op or that's an amazing coincidence, don't you think?"
Monahan testified that the clearing operation had nothing to do with Trump's speech.
"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 over the previous three days and then again on June 1. … In this case, the best avenue to do that was to install that anti-scale fencing," he said.
Rep. Jody Hice, R-Georgia, called the hearing "nothing more than political theater" to portray demonstrators' actions as peaceful on June 1.
"The evidence is abundant — everything from arson to vandalism to 51 injured officers. This is anything but peaceful, and the reason it did not sustain that kind of momentum in Washington, D.C., is because the Park Police and others got involved to put a stop to it," he said.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona and former U.S. Marine, agreed with the need for the fence but said the timing was illogical.
"De-escalating the violence does not mean sending men swinging their batons and using pepper spray or CS gas ... 40 minutes prior to a curfew," said Gallego, who added that he has been trained in de-escalation and riot control. "The one thing you try to do is actually try to find the moments to de-escalate, so 7 p.m. when the curfew is about to hit ... would have been the most logical."
There was also disagreement over whether Park Police gave demonstrators adequate warning to clear the area.
DeMarco testified that police gave three warning announcements to demonstrators beginning at about 6:20 p.m., but the announcements were barely audible to the crowd.
Monahan said that police used a long-range acoustic device with a range of 600 meters and made the announcements about 45 meters from the demonstrators.
Hice questioned DeMarco on how he could have known the warnings were given if they were not audible. "So how, if you didn't hear them, were you aware that they took place?" he asked.
DeMarco said he was approximately 30 yards away and saw a Park Police officer speaking into a hand-held microphone, with a megaphone lying on a bench nearby.
"I was in a position of privilege, and I expected something to be coming from them," DeMarco said. "If I was standing up at the line, I would have had no idea what they were actually saying."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.