Three Democratic lawmakers are asking federal watchdogs to investigate whether US Park Police broke any laws in clearing demonstrators from the square in front of the White House last week.
The request was made in a letter to Interior Department inspector general Mark Lee Greenblatt. Officials were in the early stages of reviewing the request, said department spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo.
Park Police and other security forces lobbed chemical agents and punched and clubbed demonstrators and journalists in clearing Lafayette Square near the White House on June 1, as protests surged around the country following the killing of George Floyd in police custody.
Trump administration officials have denied federal forces were making way for President Donald Trump to stage photos in front of a church nearby.
The request for an investigation was made by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva of Arizona, and Committee Vice Chair, Representative Debra Haaland of New Mexico.
“The First Amendment rights to free speech, peaceful assembly, and free press are the building blocks of all other rights,” the three lawmakers said. “Any actions by the Park Police to muzzle these rights is an affront to all Americans and should be swiftly addressed.”
US Park Police – a force of several hundred officers under the Interior Department’s National Park Service – is responsible for law enforcement at Lafayette Square, at the Statue of Liberty in New York, and at a small number of other heavily visited federal sites.
An Interior Department spokesman, Conner Swanson, called the lawmakers’ accusations “an insult to the fine men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our citizens and defend America’s national treasures”.
Meanwhile, members of the DC National Guard have tested positive for Covid-19 in the wake of the mass protests across the nation’s capital last week, according to Guard spokeswoman Brooke Davis.
She said the Guard would not release the exact total but US officials said they believed it was not a large number, at least so far.
While some Guard troops responding to the protests wore protective equipment, most were not wearing masks and it was largely impossible to maintain any social distancing.
According to officials, about 5,000 Guard members were in Washington for the civil unrest, including as many as 1,200 from the DC Guard. The remainder came from 11 states.