When the Justice Department brought a small army of often-unidentified federal police officers to the streets of Washington, D.C. amidst protests against racist policing, it made at least some of them into temporary U.S. marshals.
The unusual command structure, in which Department of Homeland Security officials acted on the orders of the Justice Department, is the latest detail to emerge about the highly controversial deployment – one that officials said was coming to an end.
Customs and Border Protection, which documents indicated loaned 400 personnel for the protest crackdown, told The Daily Beast that the Justice Department had requested its assistance.
CBP is a component of the Department of Homeland Security. But, an official there said, “We were deputized as Special Deputy US Marshals, so we weren’t using our DHS authority.”
A senior Justice Department official confirmed the deputization. “Some DHS agents were federally deputized as marshals and served under DOJ,” the official told The Daily Beast. A letter from Attorney General Bill Barr to Mayor Muriel Bowser said the department assigned additional law enforcement responsibility to the Drug Enforcement Administration and that the U.S. Marshals Service “has deputized officers from the Department of Homeland Security and from [the Bureau of Prisons]… to assist in the enforcement of federal law.”
An anonymous official with the Department of Homeland Security told The Daily Beast that its personnel, estimated at nearly 800 out of an estimated 1,300-cop deployment that spanned cabinet departments, were at all times identified. That was not the case with several other agencies, notably a contingent from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons.
It is unclear if all components to the hundreds-strong force, including those that did not identify themselves, were similarly deputized as U.S. marshals. Several departments that took part in the irregular counter-protest deployment, including the Secret Service, did not respond to inquiries. The National Park Service, which oversees the Park Police, another component contributing to the counter-protest, sent a non-responsive statement.
Deputizing other federal law-enforcement agencies as U.S. marshals—a Justice Department entity that acts as enforcement for U.S. federal courts—is unusual but legal.
A former FBI agent, Mike German, said the Justice Department risked protesters’ safety by cobbling together a force that was unused to working together for crowd control in a volatile situation.
“The deployment of any militarized law enforcement units into protests is itself a provocative act, and many agencies have clearly revived the use of aggressive tactics that were discarded decades ago as ineffective and counterproductive,” German said, “so to put untrained law enforcement officers into these positions risks their own safety and the public’s.”
But the Justice Department appears to have ended its temporary deputization. A spokesperson for CBP, the largest DHS contingent in the deployment, said the department no longer requested its staff for protest assistance.
“CBP has now demobilized all personnel in the National Capital Region,” the spokesperson said.
CBP, according to an internal document published by Yahoo, sent 400 law-enforcement officers to the protests and flew surveillance helicopters above them. The document indicated that 134 CBP personnel had been deployed to Lafayette Park in support of the Park Police, Secret Service, and National Guard.
The CBP official said CBP had initially dispatched personnel to the scene where those officers cleared the square of peaceful protesters ahead of President Trump’s June 1 photo op with a Bible in front of St. John’s Church, but “they ended up being redirected to other locations throughout the area.”
The remaining DHS personnel will soon join CBP in abandoning the counterprotest mission. “DHS is beginning to draw down its officer deployments in the nation’s capital. We are thankful for their support in helping us carry out our missions,” said department spokesman Alexei Woltornist.