Last night, the National Lawyers Guild announced a $1.17 million settlement for protesters who were injured and illegally arrested by the Oakland Police Department during Occupy Oakland protests in 2011.
"We brought both lawsuits in order to stop OPD's dangerous and illegal repression of political protest and the city government's tolerance of repeated, pervasive police misconduct," explained lead NLG attorney Rachel Lederman.
Scott Campbell, one of the plaintiffs in the case, was shot in the upper thigh with a lead-filled beanbag, known as a less-lethal round, by Officer Victor Garcia on the evening of November 2, 2011. Campbell was filming a line of riot police at the time and captured the shooting on his own camera. His footage went viral and generated national scrutiny of the Oakland Police Department's handling of Occupy protesters. (Two veterans, Scott Olsen and Kayvan Sabeghi, were also injured at Occupy events; both are currently involved in litigation against the City of Oakland.)
Garcia was instructed to shoot Campbell by his supervisor, Captain Ersie Joyner. The instructions were also captured on video, this time by the small chest-mounted video cameras OPD officers are required to wear, called PDRDs.
In this video, obtained by the NLG and compiled by WeCopwatch, a police accountability organization, a fellow officer relays Joyner's command, "Victor, that toilet paper I pointed out to you? That's our line. If they cross that line, they get beanbags to push them back."
"Which line?" Garcia asks. The officer again reiterates that a scrap of toilet paper lying on the ground in front of the police line marks the point at which Garcia may open fire.
Garcia's own PDRD video captures him tracking Campbell with his shotgun as Campbell moves parallel to the police line. When Campbell's foot grazes the toilet paper, Garcia fires.
After Campbell is hit, another officer congratulates Garcia on his shot, and Captain Joyner establishes a new line at which officers may shoot less-lethal rounds at protesters -- this time at a nearby pole. "They cannot pass that pole, less lethals, understand?" he can be heard saying in the video.
Garcia, acting on Joyner's instructions, violated OPD's crowd control policy in two ways. The policy states that less-lethal rounds like beanbags "shall only be used against a specific individual who is engaging in conduct that poses an immediate threat of loss of life or serious bodily injury." As is clear in both Campbell's video and Garcia's PDRD video, Campbell poses no threat and is merely filming the police line from a distance.
Furthermore, the OPD crowd-control policy states that beanbags should not be fired "at a person's head, neck, throat, face, left armpit, spine, kidneys or groin unless deadly force would be justified." Despite this prohibition, Garcia shot Campbell in the groin area, and was congratulated on the shot by a fellow officer.
Campbell will receive a $150,000 portion of the settlement. Campbell said, "This is an important victory because it provides compensation for victims of police violence, and it shows that the Oakland police cannot get away with violating the rights of demonstrators. As the police's own footage from my shooting shows, they willfully violated their own crowd control policy: shooting me for coming close to an imaginary line known only to them, and then joking about it."
Other plaintiffs in the settlement include Brooke Anderson, Max Bell Alper, and Kevin Christensen, who were illegally arrested on the evening of October 25, 2011, when OPD removed the Occupy Oakland encampment from Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. Anderson, Alper, and Christensen were part of a group of demonstrators who remained outside the plaza's east entrance as the camp was dismantled.
Lieutenant Fred Mestas, who was in command of a group of police at the east plaza entrance, suddenly grabbed Alper by the collar and told him that he had to leave, or be arrested. Alper says he agreed to leave, but asked for Mestas' name -- at which point, Mestas ordered that he and other demonstrators be arrested.
Mestas violated OPD's crowd control policy by ordering the arrests without a proper dispersal order. In video footage obtained by the NLG and compiled by WeCopwatch, officers can be seen moving into the crowd and making arrests. One in particular, Officer Cesar Garcia, can be seen raising his baton as he enters the crowd and swinging it, seemingly at random. A few moments later, he is seen standing to one side -- not making any arrests.
OPD's crowd control policy states, "Baton jabs should not be used indiscriminately against a crowd or group of persons, but only against individuals who are physically aggressive or actively resisting arrest." However, the video makes clear that Garcia indiscriminately struck members of the crowd and made no effort to actually make arrests.
In PDRD video from later in the evening, Garcia is seen asking another officer whether or not he needs to include the baton strikes in his use of force report. "I jabbed one of them fat things friendly," he says.
Alper will receive a $30,000 portion of the settlement; Anderson and Christensen will each receive $20,000.
This settlement comes on the heels of a $1 million settlement obtained by the National Lawyers Guild on behalf of Oscar Grant protesters who were illegally arrested during a demonstration in 2010.
Both settlements also stipulate that OPD follow a crowd-control policy that expressly prohibits police from using less-lethal rounds in the manner they were used against Campbell. This policy also reiterates guidelines for proper crowd control, requires that OPD negotiate with the NLG and the American Civil Liberties Union if they wish to revise the policy, and gives U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson the power to enforce OPD's compliance with the policy for up to seven years.
Additionally, the settlements require that all arrest records in both cases be sealed and destroyed.