NPR is suing the FBI over Lafayette Square protest documents

Law enforcement gathered in Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images.)

Law enforcement agencies gathered at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images.)

National Public Radio (NPR) filed a federal lawsuit in California on Wednesday against the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Army National Guard and the US Parks Police for allegedly wrongfully withholding information about police conduct during the protests that followed George Floyd‘s death.

The seven-page complaint, filed in US District Court in Oakland, asks the government to release records of protests in Washington DC in late May 2020. For two nights, protesters gathered in Lafayette Square, a park directly across from the White House. Fires blazed near St. John’s Church as the crowd grew unruly.

Reporters at the scene said law enforcement used tear gas to quell protesters – a claim later corroborated by a lawyer with the local Washington DC police force. On the other hand, a spokesman for the park police said the officials had Not tear gas used.

On June 1, then President donald trump posed for a much-criticized photo outside St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding up a Bible.

US President Donald Trump holds up a Bible in front of St. John

US President Donald Trump holds up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church across from Lafayette Park on June 1, 2020 in Washington, DC. Trump was due to make a televised address to the nation after days of anti-racism protests against erupting police brutality. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images.)

NPR complaint filed jointly with an NPR journalist Eric Westerveltwants to force the federal government to clarify what happened during and after these protests.

The complaint alleges that to facilitate Trump’s photo op, “a large crowd of protesters in Lafayette Square (adjacent to St. John’s Church) was forcibly removed from the area.” The complaint further alleges that these groups of peaceful protesters were cleared from the park without prior warning to disperse. NPR says various law enforcement groups used riot shields, batons, pepper spray and tear gas against the crowd.

The complaint contains some significant discrepancies between accounts of the area’s deforestation. According to NPR’s allegation, the U.S. Parks Police said the area was cleared to allow a contractor to install a limescale fence after protests May 30-31 destroyed property. According to the complaint, this fence only arrived hours later after the park was cleared. However, the complaint alleges that the former Attorney General William Barr was seen in the park late afternoon on June 1 and expressed surprise that the protesters were still present.

Two years later the plaintiffs attempt to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to determine when, how and why the area around the park was cleared. They say the government is withholding records of what the FBI, National Guard and U.S. Park Police did during the 2020 Lafayette Square protests.

Westervelt made its first FOIA request for information in June 2021. The FBI denied the request, the US Park Service sent an incomplete response, and the National Guard completely ignored it, the lawsuit says.

“Through their FOIA requests, the plaintiffs are attempting to fulfill their journalistic role and publicly shed light on information about the Lafayette Square clearance,” the complaint reads.

The parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A copy of the lawsuit is below:

Do you have a tip we should know? [email protected] NPR is suing the FBI over Lafayette Square protest documents

James Brien

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