On Friday, American Oversight sued six federal agencies to compel the public release of key documents relating to the Trump administration’s crackdown on nationwide protests against police brutality, including the violent removal of peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square in Washington, DC.
On June 1, federal police in riot gear used chemical munitions and rubber pellets to expel demonstrators from a park adjacent the White House shortly before President Donald Trump walked through the area to stage a photo op at a nearby church. The officers were reportedly acting on orders given by Attorney General William Barr. But more than two months later, it remains unclear exactly what orders they were given and under what authority. Barr has denied that the move to clear Lafayette Square was related to the president’s church photo op.
Over the following weeks and months, federal officers from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, as well as National Guard personnel, have been deployed on the streets of a number of American cities in response to the protests that began in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd on May 25.
In Washington, DC, and Portland, Ore., there have been multiple, widely reported incidents of federal police refusing to identify themselves or their agencies, deliberately targeting journalists, using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, and grabbing protesters off of the streets using unmarked vehicles.
“Rubber bullets and tear gas don’t fire themselves, and federal agents don’t fan out across the country without orders,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “Unidentified police acting on uncertain authority have no place in a democracy. While Bill Barr and Chad Wolf might find it more convenient to keep the public in the dark, we know there must be a paper trail, and we intend to make sure it comes to light.”
American Oversight has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the release of public records that could answer important questions about the actions of federal law enforcement in responding to and suppressing protests, including:
More than a month after American Oversight submitted its requests, the agencies have failed to respond, prompting the filing of the lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, DC. The complaint asks a judge to order the government to process the FOIA requests and release any responsive records as required by law.
The complaint filed by American Oversight is available here. American Oversight is actively investigating the federal, state, and local government response to the ongoing protests against police brutality and has submitted more than 100 public records requests to date. Those requests and updates on the investigation are online here.
Part of Investigation: