WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Bureau of Prisons riot teams that helped protect the White House during protests earlier this month injured employees by deploying flash bang grenades and pepper spray during exercises last year, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has found.
In a memo issued on Thursday, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the two mock exercises by the bureau’s Special Operations Response Teams (SORT) led to staff injuries and represented “potential policy violations and dangerous conduct” by the corrections officers involved.
The report is likely to raise new questions about the conduct of the BOP riot team, one of the federal law enforcement agencies on the scene in Washington on June 1 when officers fired smoke canisters, flash bang grenades and rubber bullets to drive protesters farther from the White House, enabling President Donald Trump to pose for photos holding a Bible in front of a damaged church.
In the first incident, the team deployed an unauthorized flash bang round that hit a staff member and detonated, causing “significant injury requiring surgery and ongoing treatment,” the report said.
In the second case, the SORT team used crow bars to breach a room where there were staff members on restricted duty due to medical conditions. Despite verbal warnings, the SORT team shot pepper spray and struck a staffer in the chest with a training round, according to the report, leading to pushing and shoving between the two groups.
Nancy Ayers, a BOP spokeswoman, said the bureau accepted the report’s recommendations and will “begin developing standard guidelines for mock exercises and will issue guidance to suspend mock exercises until these guidelines are issued.”
Attorney General William Barr has defended the decision to push Washington protesters back from the White House early this month, claiming that protesters had thrown objects at police and refused orders to move. However, neither Reuters witnesses nor protesters interviewed by Reuters ever heard such warnings or saw projectiles being thrown at the time.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler