Justice Department reaches settlement in 4 cases involving protests

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Justice Department reaches settlement in 4 cases involving protests

In four cases, the Justice Department reached a settlement in four cases stemming from law enforcement's response to racial justice demonstrations in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., just days after George Floyd's murder.

The United States Park Police agreed to revise its policies governing demonstrations and special events as part of the settlement.

The policy, which was released Wednesday, requires officers, except personnel in plain clothes, to be clearly identifiable as Park Police personnel, with fully visible badges and nameplates on outerwear, tactical gear and helmets. The policy also laid out new guidelines regarding the use of non-lethal force, such as prioritizing de-escalation tactics and seeking senior approval before deploying defense equipment.

The settlement follows a report by the Interior Department's inspector general last year, Mark Greenblatt, who conducted the review after a peaceful demonstration in Lafayette Square turned violent after police moved in. His report concluded that when federal police officers cleared protesters from the square on June 1, 2020, they did so in consultation with now-former Attorney General William Barr, in order to let a contractor install fencing, not to let then-President Donald Trump hold a photo opportunity at a nearby church.

Greenblatt said it was likely that many of the people gathered in the square did not hear police dispersal warnings, and that the Secret Service began its advance before the Park Police were able to issue their warnings. He also found that Washington, D.C. police fired tear gas at the protesters, taking Park Police by surprise.

There was a policy that provides guidelines for planning and communication between law enforcement agencies, which appeared to be reflected in the lack of coordination.

The Secret Service, which said one of its agents had used pepper spray during the June 1 protests, agreed to include language discouraging blanket use-of-force and other tactics in a crowd, in a revision of its previous policy.

The new policy will state that some people in a crowd have engaged in unlawful conduct does not normally give blanket grounds for use-of-force countermeasures, crowd dispersal or declaration of an unlawful assembly, according to a copy of the settlement.

Black Lives Matter D.C. and others who participated in the protests agreed to dismiss their claims against the agencies as part of the agreement.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said on Wednesday that these changes to agency policies for protest responses will strengthen our commitment to protecting and respecting constitutionally protected rights.

National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said that he hoped that his agency's policy would act as a model for upholding civil rights and facilitating safe demonstrations.

Sams said in a statement that it is good for the public and good for our officers. The United States Park Police is committed to ensuring that people can express their most fundamental and cherished right to free speech. NBC News reached out to Black Lives Matter D.C. for comment.