Watch CBS News

Arlington County pulls officers from D.C. after tear gas used on protesters

Washington — Police officers from Arlington County, Virginia, located across the Potomac from the nation's capital, were ordered to withdraw from the District of Columbia after law enforcement fired tear gas to clear demonstrators from a park near the White House, allowing President Trump to walk to a damaged historic church.

The county said Monday evening that Arlington County Police Department officers who were assisting with the response to the protests left the District of Columbia around 8:30 p.m. "at the direction" of the county manager, county board and police chief.

"The county is re-evaluating the agreements that allowed our officers to be put in a compromising position that endangered their health and safety, and that of the people around them, for a purpose not worthy of our mutual aid obligations," the county said.

Libby Garvey, a member of the Arlington County county board, said on Twitter she was "appalled" that the "mutual aid agreement [was] abused to endanger their and others safety for a photo op."

Protesters and members of the media gathered outside the White House gates Monday afternoon and into the early evening, ahead of the district's 7 p.m. curfew, to protest the death of George Floyd for a seventh day. Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee to Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes while he was prone on the pavement. For the final minutes the officer's knee was pressed to Floyd's neck, the 46-year-old was unresponsive.

Floyd's death has sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and the deaths of unarmed African Americans at the hands of law enforcement. 

In the District of Columbia, mostly peaceful daytime demonstrations have given way to some violence and vandalism after sunset. On Sunday night, stone barriers and statues outside the White House in Lafayette Park were spray painted, and part of St. John's Church, known as the "Church of the Presidents" and located across from the White House, was set on fire.

But on Monday, the peaceful protest turned chaotic when police outside the White House used tear gas and flash bangs to disperse protesters. After the area was cleared, Mr. Trump, flocked by a contingent of Cabinet members, aides and Secret Service, left the White House to walk across Lafayette Park to St. John's Church.

Once there, Mr. Trump stood for photos and held up a Bible, but did not pray or read from it.

Garvey, the chair of the Arlington County board, told CBS News the actions taken to disperse protesters were "evil and wrong."

"This was an abuse and perversion of the mutual aid agreement. You have an agreement with someone and suddenly you find yourself in a very different situation than what you agreed to," she said. "We're not having our officers put in danger for a photo-op."

Arlington County has a mutual aid agreement with the National Park Service under which police will assist in large-scale events like an inauguration or demonstrations. Garvey said the National Park Service requested assistance from Arlington County for the protests in downtown Washington several days ago, and the county agreed to send officers for a short time.

In earlier protests, Garvey said Arlington police were primarily relieving other officers when needed and operating in the background. But that changed Monday evening, as photos emerged of Arlington County Police Department officers in protective gear helping to disperse the crowd of protesters from Lafayette Park, after which Mr. Trump walked across the area.

The county then decided to withdraw its officers.

"The idea of mutual aid is to protect people and you help people and you do the right things. This was just an absolute abuse," Garvey said, adding it was a "breach of trust."

Protesters Demonstrate In D.C. Against Death Of George Floyd By Police Officer In Minneapolis
Law enforcement officers hold a perimeter near the White House during protest on June 1, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Getty Images

Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said in a statement the "perimeter was expanded to help enforce the 7 p.m. curfew in the same area where rioters attempted to burn down one of our nation's most historic churches the night before."

Deere said the U.S. Park Police warned protesters to leave three times, though reporters at the scene said they did not hear any orders.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.