Federal lawsuit over clearing of Lafayette Square names DC, Park Police officers

Tear gas floats in the air as a line of police move demonstrators away from St. John’s Church across Lafayette Park from the White House, as they gather to protest the death of George Floyd, Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A federal lawsuit alleging law enforcement officials violated the civil rights of protesters forcefully cleared from Lafayette Square in June with the use of chemical irritants has been amended to include the names of nearly two dozen D.C. and U.S. Park Police officers and a captain with Virginia’s Arlington County Police Department.

The initial lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of DC in June, listed President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the head of the U.S. Park Police and other federal officials as defendants. The lawsuit was amended in July to include claims that D.C. police were involved in the clearing of protesters, but didn’t name any of the officers.

The latest update to the case names D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham and 10 other D.C. officers, including Jeffery Carroll, the assistant chief of the department and the head of the department’s Homeland Security Bureau. Some of the D.C. officers are identified only by their last name.

Newsham has said repeatedly his officers were not involved in the clearing of protesters in front of the White House ahead of Trump’s walk through the square to St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 1.

The amended lawsuit also names 11 U.S. Park Police officers, most identified only by their helmet numbers or arm patch numbers.

The suit also names Capt. Wayne Vincent with the Arlington County police. Arlington officials had acknowledged their officers were involved in the effort to clear the square, essentially acting as backup to U.S. Park Police under a mutual-aid agreement.

However, in a news release, the county said its officers did not fire rubber bullets or tear at protesters. The county eventually withdrew its police force from D.C., saying in a statement that its officers were “put in a compromising position that endangered their health and safety, and that of the people around them, for a purpose not worthy of our mutual aid obligations.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the group Black Lives Matter DC and eight other people, including Dennis Foley, of Falls Church, Virginia, and his daughter who say they went to Lafayette Square to pass out sandwiches and water to protesters on June 1 when the clearing of the square happened.

The suit claims D.C. officers launched pellets of some sort at the pair, which they claim may have been “tear gas” or “pepper balls.”

The Park Police had, at first, denied using tear gas on protesters, then later acknowledged using pepper balls, which contain a chemical agent that induces painful irritation.

The U.S. Secret Service, which at first denied using pepper spray on the crowd, later admitted using the chemical substance, as well as smoke canisters.

Before the suit was amended to name the officers, the plaintiffs had asked a federal judge to force the departments to provide a list of officers involved in the incident. Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled it was too early in the case to do so.

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