Tonight, the Oakland City Council approved a $4.5 million settlement for Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran who was injured during an Occupy Oakland demonstration in 2011, and Olsen, along with his legal team, launched a campaign to make sure the Oakland Police Department doesn't inflict injuries like Olsen's again.
Olsen was standing near a police line when he was shot in the head with a specialty impact munition (SIM) known as a "beanbag" round -- a cloth bag filled with lead shot and fired from a 12-gauge shotgun -- that the OPD uses for crowd control. The shot fractured his skull and knocked him to the ground. As he lay there, an OPD officer threw a teargas grenade onto his body.
Olsen sustained brain damage during the attack and has had to re-learn how to speak since the incident. He was represented by attorneys Rachel Lederman and Jim Chanin in his subsequent lawsuit, which concluded this evening with the city council's vote to approve the settlement.
Now, Olsen and his lawyers are launching a campaign to strip OPD officers of the so-called "less-lethal" weapons used to injure Olsen and other Oakland protesters. (The city has spent roughly seven million dollars over the past few years to settle lawsuits by people injured by such weapons.) The campaign asks city officials to ban the munitions at events like protests, where they are currently used -- in violation of OPD's own crowd control policy.
The policy requires that SIM be used only against specific targets who pose a serious threat against officers or other members of the public. They may not be used for crowd control or crowd dispersal, as they were when Olsen was injured.
"If OPD is allowed to continue to shoot SIM and toss explosives into crowds, it is only a matter of time before someone is killed," says Chanin, pointing to a 2003 incident in which a Boston college student was killed by a SIM while celebrating a Red Sox victory.
"Since using them for crowd control violates city policy, it sends the wrong message to provide them as part of equipment for crowd control. In other words, why give someone a tool for a job that they will be punished for using?" asked Oakland city council member Rebecca Kaplan in an April 23 op-ed in the East Bay Express.
However, OPD has so far refused to stop using the SIM weapons.
"Other major Bay Area cities don't use SIM, chemical agents or explosives on crowds, and we don't need them in Oakland," Olsen says. "Whether you're protesting America's wars, the Oakland police, or whatever's important to you, you should be able to protest without fear for your safety and life. But that is not the case as long as OPD has these weapons."
Meanwhile, former Oakland police officer Robert Roche, who was identified by the East Bay Express as the officer who was fired after tossing the grenade at Olsen, is currently in the process of regaining his job at OPD.
In an April 3 Facebook post, Roche wrote, "Four more days until arbitration. It's about f¥*king time. Shooters ready, stand-by, ..." Officers fired from OPD have the opportunity to get their jobs back through arbitration hearings.
The post accompanied a photo of Roche and other former OPD officers at a bar. Officers pictured include Frank Uu, who retired from the force after beating another veteran, Keyvan Sabeghi, at an Occupy Oakland protest. The City of Oakland settled with Sabeghi for $645,000.
We reached out to OPD for comment regarding Roche's employment status and will update when we hear back.