The Secret Service reversed an earlier claim and admitted Saturday that its agents had used pepper spray on protesters to clear the way for President Donald Trump’s photo op outside a church nearly two weeks ago.
“After further review, the U.S. Secret Service has determined that an agency employee used pepper spray on June 1st to secure the area near Lafayette Parks,” said a statement from the agency.
The spray was “used in response to an assaultive individual,” the statement said. Details about the behavior were not provided.
Last week the agency insisted that “no agency personnel used tear gas or capsicum spray.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers pepper spray a “riot control agent,” and says it is “sometimes referred to as ‘tear gas,’” as are compounds more widely associated with tear gas.
The U.S. Park Police also initially denied using tear gas. But a spokesman later said it was a “mistake” to say “tear gas” wasn’t used, because the pepper balls that officers fired make it difficult for targets to breathe.
Following the Secret Service reversal, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement saying, “Once again, yet another federal agency is pulling back yet another lie meant to cover up the administration’s unlawful firing of tear gas and other weapons outside the White House on June 1.”
Law enforcement faced criticism for cracking down on anti-racism protesters that evening in order to clear the way for Trump to pose with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which is across the street from the White House. The ACLU and Black Lives Matter have sued the Trump administration for what they labeled an “unconstitutional” and “criminal attack” that evening.
Cell phone and media videos of the incident showed peaceful protesters struck with batons and shields, manhandled by law enforcement, and apparently gassed.
Attorney General William Barr, who ordered the removal of the protesters before Trump’s photo op, insisted in an interview last week that pepper spray is “not a chemical irritant.” He also claimed protesters were “not peaceful,” though that is contradicted by extensive video coverage of law enforcement’s action.