Apr 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DOJ and rights groups reach settlement in Lafayette Square protest case

US Park Police string security tape around Lafayette Square near the White House in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020.
U.S. Park Police string security tape around Lafayette Square near the White House on June 1, 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department and civil rights groups reached a partial settlement Wednesday in four lawsuits concerning the June 2020 removal of peaceful racial justice protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.

Why it matters: The square became a focal point after police used tear gas and batons to clear the area before then-President Trump walked through the park near the White House to St. John's Episcopal Church for a photo op — though a watchdog later found that U.S. Park Police and assisting law enforcement did not clear the area for this reason.

  • As part of the settlement, the USPP and the Secret Service have "agreed to update and clarify their policies governing demonstrations, and to implement the policy changes within 30 days of today’s settlement," per a Department of Justice statement.

Driving the news: The settlement resolves portions of the lawsuits brought on behalf of Black Lives Matter D.C. and 13 individual protesters by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups.

  • "The plaintiffs, Black Lives Matter D.C. and individuals who attended the protests, agreed to dismiss their claims for equitable relief against the United States," per the DOJ.
  • Vanita Gupta, the No. 3 official in the DOJ, said in a statement that the "changes to agency policies for protest responses will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights."

What they're saying: Black Lives Matter D.C.'s April Goggans said in a statement that the agreement "marks a win for the ongoing resistance against all attempts to subvert dissent."

  • Scott Michelman, legal director, of ACLU of the District of Columbia, said in a statement that he was pleased that the Biden administration was "taking an important step to protect protesters’ rights so that what happened on June 1, 2020, doesn't happen again."

Details: Per the DOJ, under the USPP’s updated policy, it will require officers to wear fully visible badges and nameplates including on outerwear, tactical gear and helmets.

  • It will also implement guidelines concerning the use of non-lethal force, including de-escalation tactics;
  • Adopt clearer procedures for issuing dispersal warnings and permitting demonstrators to disperse;
  • Strengthen pre-event planning and on-site coordination between USPP and other law enforcement agencies. 

Meanwhile, within the next 30 days, the USSS will "amend its policies to provide that the fact that some demonstrators have engaged in unlawful conduct does not ordinarily provide blanket grounds for use of force, crowd dispersal or declaration of unlawful assembly," according to the DOJ.

Flashback: The Interior Department's Office of Inspector General found that U.S. Park Police and assisting law enforcement had been planned to clear the area of demonstrators protesting George Floyd's murder hours before the USPP knew of Trump's visit.

  • The inspector general found a widespread failure to coordinate across seven law enforcement agencies contributed to "confusion" and the unauthorized use of chemical irritants on Black Lives Matter protesters.
  • A judge later ruled that Trump and then-Attorney General Bill Barr could not be held liable for the suits.
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