Charges that were brought against President Donald Trump over the clearing of protestors from Lafayette Square over a year ago have now been dropped by a federal judge. Trump, along with Attorney General Bill Barr, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, were charged with using crowd control measures to clear the park to enable a photo op in front of the vandalized St. John's Church.
US District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled against Black Lives Matter on Monday, dismissing claims that the Trump, Barr and Esper directed a conspiracy targeting black protesters. Law enforcement used non-lethal crowd control measures to remove the protestors, and Trump was blamed for this. A recent Inspector General report revealed that the clearing of protestors was happening before Parks or law enforcement knew Trump was going to be visiting the park. Law enforcement and the park police were erecting fencing to protect the area from ongoing vandalism.
"Merely alleging that the defendant officials communicated, without alleging any details of those communications that suggest an unlawful agreement, cannot justify inferring the requisite agreement" for a conspiracy, Judge Friedrich ruled on Monday.
In June 2020, Black Lives Matter DC sued Trump, Barr, and Esper after officers' deployed tear gas, pepper spray, flash bombs and other crowd control measures in an attempt to clear the violent crowd of protesters from Lafayette Square.
Friedrich found the claims against former President Trump and other federal officials to have failed on the merits of several different aspects. Friedrich said of the allegations that there wasn't enough evidence that the Trump administration committed conspiracy against the protesters, stating that evidence failed to find an "agreement or meeting of the minds" which violated the rights of protesters.
"Here, the management of possible violence, enforcement of the impending curfew, and policing of demonstrators in Lafayette Square in advance of the President's travel across the Square generate 'obvious alternative explanation[s]'… for the defendants' communications and activities other than having formed an agreement to violate the plaintiffs' civil rights," Friedrich wrote.
Under the rule of law, federal officials cannot be sued over official actions; however, there is an exception to that rule if actions resulted in constitutional violations. This exception is called a "Bivens action."
In deciding whether it would be appropriate to apply "Bivens" to a new type of case, Friedrich ruled that there were "no special factors" at play in the clearing of Lafayette Park, ruling out Supreme Court guidelines that order judges to consider whether there were "special factors" or not to claim damages.
Judge Friedrich also ruled that BLM didn't have standing regarding the plaintiffs' injunction blocking federal officials from authorizing physical force to remove people exercising their free speech rights without provocation or warning, wrote that the incident at Lafayette Square leaving a "chilling effect" on protesters didn’t provide enough evidence.
However, it was recently revealed that the park was already in the process of being cleared in order for new fencing to be installed. According to reports from The Federalist, Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser was responsible for clearing protesters out of Lafayette Square, not Trump.
The Inspector General's report on the clearing of Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020 read that: "On the morning of June 1, the Secret Service procured antiscale fencing to establish a more secure perimeter around Lafayette Park that was to be delivered and installed that same day. The USPP, in coordination with the Secret Service, determined that it was necessary to clear protesters from the area in and around the park to enable the contractor’s employees to safely install the fence."
"The USPP planned to implement the operation as soon as the fencing materials and sufficient law enforcement officers arrived at the park. Six other law enforcement agencies assisted the USPP and the Secret Service in the operation to clear and secure areas near the park," the report continues.
According to the report, the operation to begin clearing the park started at 2:23 pm and was completed by 6:50 pm. President trump walked over to St. John’s Church through Lafayette plaza at 7:01 pm. The fence was installed by a contractor from 7:30 pm to 12:30 am on June 2.
"We found that the USPP had the authority and discretion to clear Lafayette Park and the surrounding areas on June 1," the report states. "The evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church."
"...the evidence we reviewed showed that the USPP cleared the park to allow the contractor to safely install the antiscale fencing in response to destruction of property and injury to officers occurring on May 30 and 31," said the report. "Further, the evidence showed that the USPP did not know about the President’s potential movement until mid- to late afternoon on June 1—hours after it had begun developing its operational plan and the fencing contractor had arrived in the park."
The report also admits that while they did issue a dispersal warning, not everyone may have heard it, which contributed to the confusion that evening, and said "weaknesses in communication and coordination" between officers and commanders may have also contributed to the confusion.
"We also found that although the USPP used a sound amplifying long-range acoustic device to issue three dispersal warnings to the crowd on June 1, not everyone could hear the warnings. Furthermore, we found that the USPP does not have a detailed dispersal warning policy applicable to operations like the one that occurred on June 1 and that this may have led to the ineffective warnings issued to the crowd that day," the report states.
"Finally, we found that the USPP and the Secret Service did not use a shared radio channel to communicate, that the USPP primarily conveyed information orally to assisting law enforcement entities, that an assisting law enforcement entity arrived late and may not have received a full briefing on the rules of engagement, and that several law enforcement officers could not clearly hear the incident commander’s dispersal warnings," the report continues.
"These weaknesses in communication and coordination may have contributed to confusion during the operation and the use of tactics that appeared inconsistent with the incident commander’s operational plan."