The more-than-400 pages of documents and e-mails reviewed by The Post offered only limited insight in how Park Service officials made their decisions, but they suggest that Park Police were constrained by outside concerns that were not evident within the pages.
The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show no indication that the decision to allow the protesters to stay in the parks was driven by high-ranking officials at the Obama White House or the Department of Interior, as Republican critics have alleged.
But in an e-mail on Nov. 1, U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa C. Chambers suggested that her agency had minimal input in macro decisions about the future of the camps.
“This is bigger than the USPP,” Chambers wrote to several police officials in response to a request from a spokesman about how to make public a reported assault at McPherson Square.
Sgt. David Schlosser, a Park Police spokesman, said Tuesday that the e-mail was designed to reinforce that the Occupy protest should not be treated differently “simply because of the media attention.”
For months, the Park Service said the protesters’ First Amendment right to conduct a 24-hour protest vigil outweighed broad concerns from downtown and District officials that the camps were a public health hazard.
But by late January, under pressure from congressional Republicans and local leaders, Park Service officials announced a new crackdown on camping in the parks. During a dramatic early-morning raid Feb. 4, Park Police swept through McPherson Square, taking down dozens of tents and removing piles of trash in what officials said was a “nuisance abatement” for rats and other hazards. A similar encampment at Freedom Plaza was swept the following day.
Dozens of e-mails to and from Steve Whitesell, the Park Service’s regional director, and Bob Vogel, superintendent of the National Mall and memorial parks, from October through mid-December show business leaders voiced grave concerns about health and safety soon after the protests began in early October. Downtown leaders raised questions about flammable materials, potential weapons, rats and illegal drugs.
“They are destroying McPherson,” Richard H. Bradley, Downtown DC Business Improvement District executive director, wrote in an e-mail to District and federal officials on Oct. 17, urging them to devise a “containment strategy” for the protests.
Park Police and Park Service officials acknowledged that the protests were escalating, but their reluctance to challenge the protesters resulted in small-scale turf battles with the District.