Ex-US Park Police chief: ‘Would have been inappropriate’ for Barr to order Lafayette Park cleared

In this June 1, 2020 file photo, 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 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Retired U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers weighs in on Lafayette Park actions (WTOP's Neal Augenstein)

Retired U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers told WTOP on Monday that Attorney General William Barr “is not in the chain of command,” and “it would have been inappropriate for him to try to direct” the Park Police to clear Lafayette Park last week.

In a series of emails to WTOP, Chambers responded to Barr’s interview with The Associated Press, in which he said he did not give a command to disperse the crowd June 1 — though he supported the decision.

Barr said that by 2 p.m. that day, he and U.S. Park Police were in agreement the perimeter surrounding Lafayette Park would need to be extended before an emergency 7 p.m. curfew.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser imposed that curfew after protests the night before included some who threw bricks and rocks, vandalized, looted and set fires in a swath of Northwest D.C.

At least 20 minutes before last Monday’s 7 p.m. curfew, police used smoke bombs, pepper balls and police on horseback to clear the largely peaceful crowd along H Street Northwest, on the north end of Lafayette Square.

Within an hour, President Donald Trump walked through the park and posed at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had suffered some damage in a basement fire the night before.

Although the White House has said repeatedly the park was cleared at the direction of Barr, the U.S. attorney general told AP that is not accurate.

“I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that,” Barr told the AP. “I was frustrated and I was worried that as the crowd grew, it was going to be harder and harder to do. So my attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it.'”

Members of Congress are seeking answers to the circumstances surrounding the timeline and tactics used in the clearing of Lafayette Park.

Chambers became the first woman to lead the U.S. Park Police in February 2002. She was suspended in 2003 and fired in 2004 after expressing concerns to a reporter that budget cuts and staffing shortages could jeopardize the Park Police’s ability to protect the nation’s monuments.

After years of appeals, the Merit Systems Protection Board in January 2011 ordered Chambers reinstated. She retired as chief of the U.S. Park Police in 2013.

The day after the Lafayette Square incident, Chambers posted on Facebook: “The death of George Floyd is reprehensible. The actions that caused his death are inexcusable. The former officer who knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes does not represent me or the 37 years I devoted to policing nor does he represent any officer I know — active or retired.”

“My heart is shattered over Mr. Floyd’s murder. My heart is breaking for a profession I love and for hundreds of thousands of good, decent, caring officers who are doing their best to protect people who are exercising their First Amendment rights,” Chambers continued.

Given the destruction the night before, including the small fire in St. John’s Church, Chambers told WTOP, “Without a doubt, they intended to move the crowd back before the 7.p.m. curfew kicked in the following day and, from all accounts, were in the process of doing so when the AG appeared.”

“He might have expressed an opinion, but it would have been inappropriate for him to try to direct the USPP,” Chambers said. “Once the perimeter was pushed back, the president took advantage of that and went for a stroll.”

WTOP reporters on the scene said police forcefully backed largely peaceful protesters, including with tear- and cough-inducing pepper balls and smoke canisters.

“Despite what many media outlets have said, the expansion of the perimeter, which resulted in the crowed being moved back, was done for operational necessity,” Chambers said Monday.

“Officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder to move back a crowd, especially away from the White House when things start turning violent, is a tactic we used for large events during my tenure there. It does give the impression of a military movement, but it is effective with as little force as possible,” she said.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2020 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Demonstrators protest Monday, June 8, 2020, near the White House in Washington, over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Members of the Archdiocese of Washington march from the White House to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Monday, June 8, 2020, in Washington, after days of protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A person dressed as a Bible stands outside the St. John’s Church as members of the Archdiocese of Washington, foreground, participate in a protest before walking from the White House to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Monday, June 8, 2020 in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A message is attached to a tree on the north side of Lafayette Square, near the White House, in Washington, DC on June 8, 2020. – On May 25, 2020, Floyd, a 46-year-old black man suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, died in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The White House is visible behind members of the Archdiocese of Washington who gather next to a large banner that reads Black Lives Matter hanging on a police fence at 16th and H Street, Monday, June 8, 2020, in Washington, after days of protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition and Show Up For Racial Justice at Macedonia Baptist Church calling for the firing of Montgomery County police officers who’ve shot and killed certain Black men.

A man with protesters at the historically Black Macedonia Baptist Church stands with a fist in the air, turning toward traffic in both directions, before a march across River Road in Bethesda , Maryland, on Monday, June 8, 2020.

A protest by Macedonia Baptist Church on River Road in Bethesda, Maryland, on Monday, June 8, 2020.

The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition and Show Up For Racial Justice at Macedonia Baptist Church calling for the firing of Montgomery County police officers who’ve shot and killed certain Black men.

Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, and other members of Congress, kneel and observe a moment of silence at the Capitol’s Emancipation Hall, Monday, June 8, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, reading the names of George Floyd and others killed during police interactions. Democrats proposed a sweeping overhaul of police oversight and procedures Monday, an ambitious legislative response to the mass protests denouncing the deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

A girl poses for a photograph in front of a police fence at in Lafayette Park, Monday, June 8, 2020, near the White House in Washington, after days of protest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A girl poses for a photograph in front of a police fence at in Lafayette Park, Monday, June 8, 2020, near the White House in Washington, after days of protest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A worker power washes graffiti off of a statue in Lafayette Park, Monday, June 8, 2020, near the White House in Washington, after days of protest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A worker power washes graffiti off of a statue in Lafayette Park, Monday, June 8, 2020, near the White House in Washington, after days of protest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Cherise Mattheson and her son, Maurice Rorie, in Lafayette Park on Monday, June 8, 2020. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)

A scene from the protests in Washington on Monday, June 8, 2020. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)

Signs in Lafayette Park on Monday, June 8, 2020. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)

A Black Lives Matter sign in D.C. on Monday, June 8, 2020. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)

Protest signs in Lafayette Park on Monday, June 8, 2020. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)

The scene in Lafayette Park on Monday, June 8, 2020. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)

A scene from the protests in D.C. on Monday, June 8, 2020. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)

The scene in Washington on Monday, June 8, 2020. (WTOP/Melissa Howell)

(1/20)
Nancy Pelosi
A girl poses for a photograph in front of a police fence at in Lafayette Park, Monday, June 8, 2020, near the White House in Washington, after days of protest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A worker power washes graffiti off of a statue in Lafayette Park, Monday, June 8, 2020, near the White House in Washington, after days of protest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up