OAKLAND -- An Iraq War veteran, whose shooting by police during a 2011 Occupy Oakland demonstration galvanized a protest movement that flared for months, will receive a $4.5 million settlement from the city.
Scott Olsen, 26, suffered a fractured skull and brain damage when he was struck in the head by a lead-filled bean bag fired by an Oakland police officer.
The shooting occurred on Oct. 25, 2011, during a nighttime demonstration at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza outside Oakland City Hall, where hundreds of people had amassed to protest the city's evacuation of an Occupy encampment from the plaza earlier that day.
At the plaza on Friday, Olsen, dressed in faded, ripped jeans and plaid shirt, said the settlement should provide him enough money for the rest of his life but that the brain damage he suffered has prevented him from returning to work at a technology firm.
"They could give me a $100 million," he said. "That is not going to give me part of my brain back that is dead."
Olsen's settlement dwarfs others stemming from several Occupy Oakland-related protests that raged from late 2011 to mid-2012. The next-biggest settlement in an Occupy-related case was $645,000 awarded to Kayvan Sabeghi, who suffered a ruptured spleen when an Oakland police officer struck him several times with a baton during a protest on Nov. 2, 2011. Including Olsen's case, Oakland has now agreed to pay out more than $6.3 million in Occupy-related lawsuits.
City Attorney Barbara Parker defended the settlement, saying that a jury might have awarded Olsen more money if the case had gone to trial. "This is a fair settlement given the facts of the case and the significant injuries Mr. Olsen sustained," she said in a prepared statement.
The city will pay $1.8 million to Olsen; its insurance carrier will pay the remainder.
Olsen and his attorneys, Rachel Lederman and Jim Chanin, urged the city to forbid police from arming themselves at protests with less-than-lethal munitions such as the lead beanbags and sponge grenades. They said the Occupy protest and a 2003 Port of Oakland protest have shown that officers too often fail to adhere to policies restricting the use of those ammunitions in a crowd of demonstrators.
Mayor Jean Quan did not address concerns about police munitions in a prepared statement Friday praising the settlement and the city's efforts to learn from the Occupy protests.
The beanbag, fired at close range from a 12-gauge shotgun, so badly injured Olsen that the surgeon described reconstructing his skull as "trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together," Lederman said.
Olsen's shooting, the aftermath of which was captured on video and uploaded to the Internet, generated outrage and turned many in the city against the police and the decision by city leaders to evacuate the Occupy encampment.
Footage showed Olsen lying injured on the pavement. When demonstrators rushed to his aide, Oakland police Officer Robert Roche threw a flash-bang grenade in their vicinity, forcing them to scatter, Olsen's attorneys said. The grenade exploded close enough to Olsen that it burned his shoulder.
Roche is fighting an attempt by the department to fire him.
Lederman said the bean bag that struck Olsen in the head was fired either by Roche or by Officer Todd Martin.
Asked about Roche on Friday, Olsen said, "I'm not sure what he was thinking, but I'm sure we all do things we regret."
A 2012 independent review of the police handling of the Oct. 25 protest, conducted by former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier, faulted department brass. Frazier, who later served as the federal police overseer in Oakland, found that top commanders had failed to anticipate that the evacuation of the Occupy encampment that morning would lead to a nighttime demonstration and failed to deploy enough officers to handle it.
Olsen served two tours of duty as a Marine in Iraq. Shortly after being discharged in 2009, he joined Iraq Veterans Against the War and later became involved with the Occupy movement. He arrived at the Oakland protest only about 20 minutes before he was shot.
Olsen said he battled depression after the shooting and had to relearn how to walk and talk. "It was a hard recovery process," he said. As for the future, Olsen wouldn't rule out returning to his native Wisconsin. "I need a little time to chill out and figure out what I'm going to do," he said.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.