WASHINGTON — The sights and sounds of federal police pushing away protesters from Lafayette Square Park on June 1 was once again thrust into the national spotlight during the first presidential debate Tuesday night.
US Park Police, the lead agency on site, and the Trump administration have denied that tear gas was ever used. But WUSA9 proved federal police did indeed use tear gas, because we were there and picked up the evidence: tear gas canisters we found on H and 17th street as the president walked across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church.
In Tuesday night's debate, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said, “When Mr. Floyd was killed, there was a peaceful protest in front of the White House. What did he do? He came out of his bunker, had the military use tear gas on them so he could walk across to a church and hold up a Bible. And then what happened after that? The Bishop of that very church said it was a disgrace.”
While the former vice president was correct about the D.C. Episcopal Bishop’s response, he was incorrect in stating it was military forces using tear gas. WUSA9 crews witnessed, and video first obtained by the Washington Post shows, that US Park Police used stinger ball grenades on protesters that spread OC tear gas. Officers wearing Federal Bureau of Prisons logos were spotted carrying the launchers needed to fire the OC and CS tear gas canisters we found on the street.
Now, a new military weapon called the Active Denial System is the focus of renewed congressional scrutiny.
“It's probably the safest system that we’ve developed as far as the non-lethal capability," Director of Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Col. Tracy Tafolla said in a US Marine Corps video.
Active Denial System uses invisible microwave beams to make people’s skin feel like it's burning up to 700 yards away. The Marine Corps video from Quantico, Virginia shows its effectiveness on simulated protesters. The military said it causes no permanent harm.
WUSA9 obtained written testimony that D.C. National Guard Major and whistleblower Adam DeMarco gave to a Congressional committee in addition to what he said in person July 28. He wrote that the lead military police officer for the D.C. area wrote him the morning of June 1, asking if D.C. National Guard had its own microwave beam Active Denial System.
It did not and none were deployed.
"On June 1st, a military police staff officer from the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capitol Region (JFHQ-NCR), as a matter of due diligence and prudent military planning, inquired informally about capabilities across the full-spectrum of non-lethal systems, to include the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) and Active Denial System (ADS)," Army spokesperson Col. Robert Phillips responded in a statement. "JFHQ-NCR does not possess these systems, did not request such systems, and no further action was taken as a result of the officer's email query."
Staff with the House Committee overseeing Park Police tells WUSA9 that while they are continuing to investigate what happened at Lafayette Square Park, it’s unclear when their next hearing will be.