As outrage and debate continue about the tactics police have used against Occupy protesters, the Oakland Police Department is investigating the captain who approved the use of beanbag projectiles against demonstrators Nov. 3.
Capt. Ersie M. Joyner III, 42, said Wednesday that he could be fired or demoted pending the investigation. He was placed in a bureaucratic job in the department's Office of the Inspector General about two weeks ago while the review continues, but he said he expects the investigation will show he did nothing wrong.
The officer who fired the projectile, Victor Garcia, was removed from the SWAT team and also is being investigated. The beanbag struck a videographer, Scott Campbell, in the upper thigh. Campbell captured the shooting on video.
Garcia could not be reached for a comment, and interim police Chief Howard Jordan did not respond to a request to discuss the investigations.
Word of the probe comes as Occupy protesters in Oakland and elsewhere have sharply criticized police for using unnecessarily harsh crowd-control methods and depriving them of their First Amendment rights.
The issue is especially sensitive in Oakland, where the department is under a long-standing federal court order that limits its use of force.
Joyner said that he gave an order that officers on a skirmish line could fire the beanbag rounds if they were approached by a nearby group of "anarchists" who had already broken windows and lit trash fires. He said he did not order the shot that hit Campbell and was not on the line when the round was fired. He declined to comment directly on the officer's decision to fire.
Campbell's video, posted on YouTube, shows him backing away from the skirmish line and asking loudly if he is far enough away from officers to continue filming. The video shows a flash and a bang is heard, and then Campbell collapses.
No police warning is audible before the shot is heard. This is an apparent violation of the department's use-of-force and crowd-control policies, which require officers to issue a warning before firing beanbags on protesters. Campbell has sued the department in federal court seeking unspecified damages.
Campbell's video "doesn't look too good" for the department, said Joyner, a 20-year veteran of the force. Still, the captain said the charges he could face -- gross dereliction of duty and giving an unlawful order -- will not be sustained.
He said SWAT officers came to him and asked how they should respond if demonstrators charged them. "I drew a line in the sand," he said. If people threatening police got too close, the officers could fire 12-gauge rounds containing bags of lead pellets to stop them.
Implicit in the order, Joyner said, was that advancing demonstrators had to meet the department's strict criteria for the use of force, which states projectiles can be fired "only against a specific individual who is engaging in conduct that poses an immediate threat of loss of life or serious bodily injury" to themselves, police or others.
"You can't just shoot somebody for walking up to a line," Joyner said. "My order was clear."
Joyner said the video doesn't show that a large group of people, some in motorcycle helmets and gas masks, were lined behind Campbell. That group, recorded on cameras attached to officers' uniforms, had the potential to threaten officer safety, Joyner said.
Campbell's video shows the officers standing on the skirmish line with guns pointed at the ground and standing in relaxed positions. In an interview this month, Campbell said a few people were "milling around" near him and that others were shouting at police.
"The police line was not moving (when the shot was fired) and no one was confronting police on that line," Campbell said in his federal lawsuit. He did not see anyone near him engaging in violent behavior.
Joyner, the former commander of the department's homicide squad, also remains under department review after he and another officer shot and killed two men during a car stop on Curran Avenue near the Fruitvale district in May.
Staff writer Josh Richman contributed to this report. Follow Thomas Peele at Twitter.com/thomas_peele.