• Mon. Jun 5th, 2023


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DOJ reaches settlement in 2020 cases involving Lafayette Square protesters

The Justice Department has reached a settlement in four cases stemming from law enforcement’s response to racial justice demonstrations in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., just days after the murder of George Floyd.

As part of the settlement, U.S. Park Police agreed to revise its policies governing demonstrations and special events.

The new policy, released Wednesday, requires officers, except personnel in plainclothes, to be “clearly identifiable” as Park Police personnel, with fully visible badges and nameplates on outerwear, tactical gear and helmets. The policy also lays out new guidelines about the use of nonlethal force, such as prioritizing de-escalation tactics and seeking senior approval before deploying defense equipment.

The settlement follows a report last year by the Interior Department’s inspector general, Mark Greenblatt, who conducted the review after a largely peaceful demonstration in Lafayette Square turned violent after police moved in. His report concluded that federal police officers cleared protesters from the square on June 1, 2020, in consultation with William Barr, the attorney general at the time, to let a contractor install fencing — not to let President Donald Trump hold a photo opportunity at a nearby church.

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But Greenblatt also said it was likely that many of the people in the square did not hear police dispersal warnings and that the Secret Service began its advance before Park Police were able to issue their warnings. He also found that Washington, D.C., police fired tear gas at the protesters, taking Park Police by surprise.

The lack of coordination appeared to be reflected in the new policy, which provides guidelines for planning and communication among law enforcement agencies.

Revising its previous policy, the Secret Service, which reported that one of its agents used pepper spray during the June 1 protests, agreed to include language discouraging “blanket” use of force and other tactics in crowds.

“The fact that some individuals in a crowd have engaged in unlawful conduct does not normally provide blanket grounds for use-of-force countermeasures, crowd dispersal, or declaration of an unlawful assembly,” the new policy will state, according to a copy of the settlement.

As part of the agreement, the plaintiffs, including Black Lives Matter D.C. and others who participated in the protests, agreed to dismiss their claims against the agencies.

“These changes to agency policies for protest responses will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement Wednesday.

Chuck Sams, the director of the National Park Service, the parent agency of the Park Police, said he hoped the new policy would act as a model for upholding civil rights and facilitating safe demonstrations.

“It is good for the public and good for our officers,” Sams said in a statement. “The United States Park Police is committed to ensuring people can gather safely to express our most fundamental and cherished right to free speech.”

NBC News has reached out to Black Lives Matter D.C. for comment.