Former President Donald Trump, former Attorney General Bill Barr and other members of the Trump administration cannot be sued over the forcible clearing of Black Lives Matter protesters from Washington DC’s Lafayette Square last year, a federal judge ruled Monday.
In a 51-page decision, US District Judge Dabney Friedrich tossed many of the claims in four overlapping lawsuits, which alleged that government officials used unnecessary force by ordering US Park Police to deploy rubber bullets, flash bang grenades and tear gas to disperse demonstrators on the evening of June 1, 2020.
Protesters were pushed from the park across from the White House shortly before Trump walked through the same area to deliver a brief speech while holding up a Bible in front of St. John’s Church, which had been vandalized the night before.
The Washington DC chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter and other organizations brought the lawsuits.
In her decision, Friedrich rejected claims that Trump, Barr and then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper conspired to violate protesters’ civil rights before the park was cleared, writing that the plaintiffs did not show evidence of “sufficient ‘events, conversations, or documents indicating an agreement or meeting of the minds’ amongst the defendants to violate [plaintiffs’] rights based on [their] membership in a protected class’.”
The judge added that the possibility of violence, enforcing a citywide curfew and presidential security provided “obvious alternative explanation[s]” for the actions of Trump and other members of his administration.
“In this context, it matters not whether the national security risk actually justified the particular action taken,” the ruling states. “Rather, the question is whether ‘national-security concerns’ were present in the decision-making process the federal officials faced … When it comes to managing crowd activity directly outside of the White House, decision-makers must weigh public, presidential, and White House security interests.”
Friedrich did allow claims of First Amendment violations by local officials from Washington DC and Arlington County (Va.) to go forward.
The judge also ruled that lawsuits challenging ongoing restrictions on access to Lafayette Square can proceed. Entryways on the northern side of the park were quietly opened to the public last month, but the square itself remains fenced off.
Earlier this month, an internal investigation by the Interior Department found no evidence that the park was cleared so Trump could walk across to the church for a photo op, despite the claims of many Democrats and liberals.
A 37-page report from Interior Department Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt concluded that the protesters were removed so a contractor could install “antiscale fencing in response to destruction of property and injury to officers”. Greenblatt also concluded that officials “had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park.”
The report determined that booting the protesters was justified, but law enforcement agencies on the scene failed to effectively communicate with each other and failed to communicate warnings to the protesters about the impending crackdown.
Trump has claimed that the protesters were cleared because the park had been overrun by violent rioters. Following the publication of Greenblatt’s report, the former president thanked the watchdog for “Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!”
With Post wires