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Watchdog finds violations in Park Police officers' force against media in 2020 Lafayette Square incident

Park Police officers violated policy when they hit a reporter with a baton and pushed another member of the media’s camera during the infamous 2020 clearing of protesters in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., an internal government watchdog has found. 

In a new report on Wednesday, the Interior Department’s Inspector General’s Office said that pushing the camera went beyond the “minimum level of reasonable force.”

The reporter said that hitting the journalist with the baton was a violation because the Park Police policy “does not permit an officer to use their baton to strike an individual who is running away.”

The watchdog, however, did not fault the officer who pushed the camera for also striking the cameraperson with a shield, saying that doing so was “objectively reasonable and did not exceed the minimal level of reasonable force necessary to control the situation.”

The findings state that the officer who pushed the camera left the Park Police last year.

 It did not directly address The Hill’s question about the other officer’s employment status. 

Instead, the Park Police shared a written statement from Chief Jessica Taylor saying that the report was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility “to recommend any corrective actions, including disciplinary actions, if warranted.”

Neither the media members nor the officers were named in the report. However, the events described appear similar to the publicly reported striking of cameraman Tim Myers and reporter Amelia Brace from Australia’s Network Seven.

The incident occurred during the police attempts to clear protesters from the square amid the protests. People had gathered to rally against the police killing of George Floyd, in which an officer knelt on Floyd’s neck. 

Following law enforcement’s widely scrutinized use of pepper balls and tear gas in Lafayette Square, then-President Trump walked through the area and stood in front of a nearby church. The federal government later found that the protesters were not cleared because of Trump.

Wednesday’s report said that the officer who struck the cameraman felt threatened due to the cameraman’s position making him appear to be “purposely concealed” for the purpose of an “ambush.”

The officer said that after seeing the camera, they no longer felt threatened, but said that the cameraman was “distracting me from other people.” 

The cinematographer told the watchdog that after the officer “punched” their camera, the camera hit the back of their head, causing him to see stars and experience a “bit of whiplash.”

The other officer, who hit the reporter, told the watchdog that they believed the reporter would try to assault a police officer. However, the report said that the journalist was following the officer’s orders to leave and that the officer’s justification was “objectively unreasonable.”

The reporter told the watchdog that they later received physical therapy for injuries because of ongoing “pain and discomfort.”

Source: The Hill

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