OAKLAND, Calif. – 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 $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, 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. 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.
“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 it is a sad day not only for Olsen, but also for the city of Oakland.
“They were punishing people who were exercising their constitutional rights,” Chanin said. “This was all completely avoidable.”
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.
The incident, which was recorded and vent viral on the Internet, became a flashpoint for the Occupy Oakland movement and generated outrage within the city and abroad.
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 misdemeanour vandalism.
Oakland police said officers have undergone extensive training in dealing with protests since then.