WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Park Police acknowledged that its officers used smoke and irritating pepper agents to clear protesters outside the White House on Monday before President Donald Trump walked to a historic church that was damaged by arson.
The police agency denied in a statement on Tuesday that it used "tear gas" to disperse the protesters, who it claimed -- in contradiction to news coverage of the event -- had attacked its officers. "Tear gas" is a colloquial term used to describe a variety of irritating crowd-control agents, including pepper spray.
The Park Police patrols national parks in Washington, D.C., including Lafayette Square across from the White House. It said in its statement that it began clearing the protesters after they threw "projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids," and that officers found "caches of glass bottles, baseball bats and metal poles hidden along the street" near Lafayette Square.
"To curtail the violence that was underway, the USPP, following established policy, issued three warnings over a loudspeaker to alert demonstrators on H Street to evacuate the area," the agency said in a statement. A Washington Post reporter who was covering the Lafayette Square protest on Monday said in a tweet that she heard no warnings.
"Horse-mounted patrol, Civil Disturbance Units and additional personnel were used to clear the area," the Park Police said. "As many of the protestors became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers' weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls."
"No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park," the agency said.
Witnesses in the park on Monday, including journalists covering the protests, described the demonstrators as peaceful and said police used rubber bullets, tear gas and flash-bang devices to clear them before Trump walked to St. John's Episcopal Church on the north side of the square.
Trump has endured criticism from religious leaders, Democrats and some Republicans for the police attack on protesters and his walk to the church, where he held a Bible in front of cameras and was photographed with some of his staff.
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