Two U.S. Park Police officers used excessive force against two journalists during a crackdown on racial justice protesters outside the White House almost three years ago, the U.S. Department of the Interior Inspector General said in a report publicly released Wednesday.
The two journalists — known in the report not by name but as the cinematographer and the reporter — were in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., June 1, 2020, to cover protests over the police killing of George Floyd for an Australian television network.
The police officers — who also aren’t named in the report and each had over 10 years of experience — used force against them during the subsequent operation to disperse protesters in and around the area ahead of then-President Donald Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s church.
During the operation, one officer struck the cinematographer with his shield and then grabbed and pushed the cinematographer’s camera. The report determined that the first use of force — the shield strike — complied with department policy, but the second use of force — the camera push — did not.
The camera push caused the cinematographer to “see” stars and suffer “a bit of whiplash” and damaged his camera, he said in the report.
Meanwhile, a second officer struck the reporter with a baton. The report said the baton strike did not comply with use of force policy because the reporter was retreating, following officer orders and was not a threat.
The report matches footage and testimony showing police striking Australian reporters Amelia Brace and Timothy Myers, according to The Washington Post.
Eric Feder, an attorney with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, who represents Myers and Brace, told The Post that “the details all match up completely” with the experiences of his clients, even though a representative from the U.S. Department of the Interior Inspector General did not directly tell them the report was about them.
"We appreciate the Inspector General’s close attention to this troubling incident," Feder told VOA. "We don’t agree with all aspects of the report — from our perspective, nothing about what the Park Police officers did to Mr. Myers and Ms. Brace that day was appropriate. But we are pleased that the report correctly concluded in the end that the officers plainly did use excessive force on our clients.
"No one should be subjected to violence by law enforcement for peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights — whether journalists or protesters," Feder added.
“I appreciate the Department of the Interior Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) thorough investigation and I am reviewing the full report,” Park Police Chief Jessica Taylor said in a statement to VOA. “Consistent with USPP policy, following the completion of the OIG report this matter was referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to recommend any corrective actions, including disciplinary actions, if warranted.”
The Australian journalists were part of a much larger pattern because they were among the nine journalists assaulted that same day while covering the protests in the nation’s capital, according to Kirstin McCudden, vice president of editorial for the Freedom of the Press Foundation.
“The acknowledgement that law enforcement used excessive force on journalists Amelia Brace and Tim Meyers is an important first step in accountability when it comes to protecting the right of the press to be present and safe when documenting historically important news events,” McCudden told VOA.
“The rest of the month of June only worsened for the free press as we documented nearly 100 assaults of journalists covering protests across the U.S.,” McCudden said.