Oakland to pay $4.5M to 'Occupy' vet wounded by police
Scott Olsen, who was struck by beanbag during confrontation with police in 2011, suffered brain damage
Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran who was injured by a police projectile during an Occupy Oakland protest on October 25, 2011, is seen speaking near Oakland City Hall in this file photo from Dec. 12, 2011. Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images
An Iraq War veteran whose skull was fractured during an Occupy Oakland protest when he was hit by a beanbag round fired by police has reached a tentative $4.5 million agreement to settle a federal lawsuit with the city of Oakland, his lawyers and city officials announced Friday.
Scott Olsen, 26, sued the city in 2012 for medical expenses and injuries that also included a fractured vertebrae and hemorrhaging of the brain. Olsen was among more than 1,000 demonstrators protesting the police clearing of an Occupy Oakland encampment when struck by a beanbag fired by an officer outside City Hall on Oct. 25, 2011.
Olsen's lawyers said police investigators concluded he was struck by the round that was fired by an officer less than 30 feet away during the 2011 clash.
Olsen, who served two tours of duty as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, suffered permanent brain injuries and has not been able to return to his career as a computer systems administrator, his attorney Rachel Lederman said Friday.
"We're pleased that Scott is finally going to be getting some compensation for this really devastating injury," Lederman said. "He sustained some pretty serious brain damage resulting from being shot at a very close range."
Olsen said Friday outside of City Hall that there are no winners in the case. He said it's been a very difficult and stressful two and a half years for him, from being in the hospital to relearning how to talk to dealing with a lawsuit.
"I didn't win part of my brain back," Olsen said. "Right now, I'm still focusing on my recovery and how I can continue to be a productive person in life."
Attorney Jim Chanin, who also represents Olsen, said Friday that the police operation that led to his client's injuries was "completely avoidable."
"They were punishing people who were exercising their constitutional rights," Chanin added.
'A Fair Settlement'
City Attorney Barbara Parker said Friday that the city will pay $1.8 million and the city's insurance carrier will cover the remaining balance.
"Mr. Olsen suffered a tragic injury that will affect him for the rest of his life. This settlement will save the City the far greater costs of a trial and potentially much higher judgment," Parker said in a statement. "This is a fair settlement given the facts of the case and the significant injuries Mr. Olsen sustained."
The settlement needs final approval from the City Council.
Olsen's lawsuit did not identify the officer who fired the beanbag, but said Oakland Police Officer Robert Roche threw a flash-bang grenade in the vicinity of those assisting Olsen, forcing them to flee.
Following the 2011 incident, Olsen became a symbol for the Occupy movement, which began in New York as a protest against economic inequality and corporate excesses.
Images of Olsen's injuries appeared often on social media networks, and helped to draw more military veterans to protests.
Oakland became a focal point of the protests, which often led to clashes between demonstrators and police, resulting in a record number of use-of-force complaints against the police department.
An independent study in June 2012 reported that police were ill-equipped to handle that protest because of inadequate staffing, poor planning and training. City officials later acknowledged that an Oakland police officer fired a beanbag at Olsen, and another officer fired a gas canister at the crowd while some were attending to Olsen.
Then-Police Chief Howard Jordan recommended that two officers be fired and another 42 officers disciplined or reprimanded for misconduct in that protest and others that led to more than 700 arrests for a variety of crimes including felony assault and misdemeanor vandalism.
Oakland police said officers have undergone extensive training in dealing with protests since then.