National Public Radio (NPR) filed a freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against the FBI and other agencies that allegedly wrongly withheld information about police behavior during protests over George Floyd's death, Courthouse News Service reports. NPR's Eric Westervelt says the FBI, the National Guard and the U.S. Park Police are withholding records concerning law enforcement agencies' actions during protests in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., in 2020. The complaint demands that the feds comply with the First Amendment and immediately provide all requested records. Westervelt has been investigating a May 2020 incident when police cleared protestors from the square the day before President Trump could walk from the White House to St. John's Church for a photo op. Law enforcement agencies forcibly removed protestors by using riot shields, batons, pepper spray and tear gas.
Westervelt filed FOIA requests last year, asking three federal agencies for copies of all records about operations conducted between the morning of May 30 and the night of June 1 that year, in and around Lafayette Square. More than nine months later, NPR alleges in the complaint that no documents answering Westervelt's FOIA requests have been produced by the National Guard and the FBI. The U.S. Park Police has provided "minimal documents" responding to the FOIA requests, but the materials did not answer Westervelt's request. The FBI and the main U.S. Department of Justice denied releasing the records under a federal law, citing a "pending prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to the responsive records." NPR said they are legally entitled to these records because news agencies are guaranteed freedom of the press by the First Amendment, to "bare the secret of government and inform the people."