In a tentative settlement announced today, the City of Oakland will pay $4.5 million to Iraq war vet Scott Olsen, who was struck in the head by a beanbag round, a less-lethal weapon used by the Oakland Police Department for crowd control, during an Oct. 25, 2012 Occupy protest.
The beanbag round, a cloth bag filled with lead shot, was fired at Olsen from a police line roughly 15 feet from Olsen, who was 24 at the time, fracturing his skull and causing brain damage. The shot was a violation of the OPD's crowd-control policy, says one of Olsen's attorneys, Jim Chanin.
"He was shot because OPD commanders decided to simultaneously use chemical agents to disperse the demonstrators and have officers shoot impact munitions at anyone who might be throwing something, even though this violated their own written policies," Chanin says.
Video from the protest shows Olsen collapsed on the ground following the shot as a small crowd tried to assist him. An OPD officer then throws a flashbang grenade into the crowd, forcing people to scatter away from Olsen. The video, which later shows Olsen being carried away from the scene by fellow protesters, went viral and became a rallying call for the Occupy movement.
Another of Olsen's attorneys, Rachel Lederman of the National Lawyers Guild, adds, "The commanders knew teargas and flashbangs would cause people to panic and run, yet they elected to shoot SIM [specialty impact munitions, such as beanbag rounds] into the densely packed crowd and it is only a matter of luck that more people weren't injured as severely as Scott Olsen or killed. If the police had done sufficient planning for the demonstration and followed their own Crowd Control Policy, the use of weapons could have been entirely avoided."
Previous lawsuits brought by Lederman and Chanin against the Oakland police regarding their violent handling of the Occupy movement have garnered a total of $1,815,000 in settlements from the City of Oakland. A companion lawsuit regarding mass arrests made during an Oscar Grant protest earned a $1 million settlement. The latter suit also extended federal oversight of the police department's crowd-control policy for up to seven years.
Last August, SF Weekly revealed that OPD officers received little training on their own crowd control policy.
Olsen's settlement is pending approval by the Oakland City Council. A press conference will be held by Olsen and his attorneys at 10 a.m. today in Frank Ogawa Plaza.