activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: occupy oakland

officer reinstated after throwing flash-bang grenade at demonstrators assisting scott olsen

During the October 25, 2011 protest against the eviction of Occupy Oakland, an Oakland police officer shot Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen in the head with a lead-filled bean-bag round, fracturing Olsen’s skull and causing permanent brain damage. Another officer, Rob Roche, then threw a flash-bang grenade at demonstrators who came to assist the bleeding Olsen. Although Roche was fired in August 2013 for this brutality, today an arbitrator ordered Oakland to reinstate him with back pay.

The Alameda County District Attorney never filed criminal charges against Roche or any other Oakland police officer for misconduct during the October 25, 2011 protest. Earlier this year, however, Olsen received a $4.5 million settlement from Oakland. According to a March 26 East Bay Express article,

As for Olsen, he said he’s relieved that his injuries were not worse. After the shooting, he temporarily lost his ability to speak and perform basic motor functions, and while he has improved significantly with therapy, his memory, concentration, and speech are still impaired.

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california appeals court unanimously rules that stay-away order was constitutional

On December 30, 2011, police started writing citations against people whose items were on walkways in Oscar Grant Plaza, where Occupy Oakland had set up tents with a city permit. As an Oakland police officer was grappling with a female demonstrator, Cameron Rose allegedly hit the officer in the head with a metal folding chair. Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle article describes the incident:

When one woman refused an officer’s demand for identification and started to walk away, the officer grabbed her. She struggled, another woman tried to pull her away, and when two more officers grabbed that woman, Rose struck one of them from behind with a steel folding chair, the court said. He fled but was arrested a month later. Ten others had been arrested after the protest.

Rose was acquitted of a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon, but convicted of resisting an officer and misdemeanor assault. The judge did not jail Rose, instead putting him on probation for five years and ordering that he stay out of a six-square-block area in downtown Oakland including City Hall and Oscar Grant Plaza. (Rose was allowed to travel through the restricted area via certain modes of public transportation.) Rose claimed the stay-away order was unconstitutional, but on Thursday a California appeals court unanimously ruled that the restriction was “carefully designed to promote rehabilitation.” According to the court of appeal opinion,

After considering Rose’s volatile and criminal history at that specific location as well as his mental illness, the trial court reasoned that restricting Rose from that small area would help him successfully complete his probation.

police arrested thousands of occupy wall street protesters, but prosecutors declined to seek convictions against the vast majority

As in Oakland, where Occupy protests resulted in more than 700 arrests but only about 100 people were criminally charged, the vast majority of the people arrested during Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City had their cases dropped or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. According to today’s New York Times article,

… of the 2,644 people arrested during Occupy Wall Street protests, prosecutors only sought convictions in 421 cases; the rest were either dropped or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Of the 421 cases, 354 pleaded guilty, 56 were convicted at trial and 11 were acquitted.

Today Cecily McMillan will be sentenced for elbowing an officer in the eye in March 2012. McMillan said she struck the officer instinctively after he groped her breast. A jury found that McMillan deliberately hit the officer, but one member of the jury, who said he spoke for nine of of the jurors, wrote a letter to the judge urging leniency.

berkeley copwatch activist files civil rights lawsuit in federal court against city of oakland

At a protest in Oakland on May 1, 2012, after a line of police ordered demonstrators to move, Russell Bates paused to film officers knocking someone down and beating him. One or more officers then hit Bates in the head with a baton and took him to the ground, causing him to lose consciousness. According to yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle article,

Bates was arrested on suspicion of failing to disperse and spent eight hours at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin before he was released, the complaint said. Prosecutors never charged him with a crime. Bates said he suffered a concussion, post-concussion syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Tuesday, Bates filed a lawsuit against the city of Oakland and five police officials related to the incident. Civil rights attorney Rachel Lederman represents Bates in the lawsuit. Bates is a member of Berkeley Copwatch, which coined the term “copwatch” in 1990 and has served as a model for other copwatch groups around the U.S.

oakland pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle two more lawsuits by protesters

In June, Oakland and Alameda County agreed to pay $1.025 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by 150 protesters who were arrested and detained on November 5, 2010 for demonstrating against the light sentence former BART officer Johannes Mehserle received after fatally shooting Oscar Grant. In July, the Oakland City Council agreed to pay $1.17 million to settle another lawsuit filed by a dozen Occupy Oakland protesters who were subjected to excessive force by police in October and November 2011. Yesterday the Oakland City Council agreed to pay more than $693,000 to settle two additional lawsuits filed by Occupy Oakland protesters, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article:

In the first case, Army veteran Kayvan Sabeghi will receive $645,000 to resolve a lawsuit he filed against the city in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, alleging that he was clubbed by Oakland police during an Occupy protest on Nov. 2, 2011. … Sabeghi underwent surgery for a lacerated spleen. … In a second case, the council agreed to pay $48,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by Robert Ovetz, a college instructor and activist from Marin County who said he was thrown to the ground and struck twice by a police baton during an Occupy protest in Oakland on Jan. 28, 2012.

Video footage of the second incident showed that Ovetz was not resisting when officer Ercivan Martin hit him in the abdomen and back with a baton. Ovetz was jailed for three days for, among other allegations, assaulting an officer. Alameda County prosecutors dismissed the criminal case against him.

oakland’s city council votes to ban potentially destructive items at demonstrations

Early this morning, Oakland’s City Council voted to forbid protesters from carrying numerous items that could potentially be used as weapons. The proposal had been abandoned last year, but was reintroduced after a protester, in an apparently instinctive reaction, hit a waiter with a hammer in the frames of his glasses on July 15 during a demonstration against the jury’s verdict in George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial. Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb abstained from the vote due to concerns that demonstrators could be arrested for items such as protest signs with posts that don’t meet specifications. According to today’s San Francisco Chronicle article,

Oakland first tried to ban weapons from demonstrations in 2012, when Occupy Oakland protesters repeatedly bashed in downtown windows while battling with police. But the committee discussing that resolution took no action after irate protesters disrupted a meeting, saying the effort to ban the weapons was a violation of their free speech.

Although political repression does not wax and wane with the passage and repeal of individual anti-protest laws, every such law is another tool officers can use in their attempts to prevent demonstrations from disrupting business as usual. Montréal’s bylaw P–6, for example, bans blunt objects at demonstrations, specifically baseball bats and hockey sticks, which protesters used during the 2001 Québec City anti-FTAA demonstrations to knock tear gas canisters back at police. As police at demonstrations often use excessive force and sometimes kill protesters or bystanders, they can easily disperse crowds in which protesters can’t defend themselves against police weapons (e.g., tear gas).

oakland and alameda county pay millions to settle two lawsuits by protesters

Yesterday the Oakland City Council agreed to pay $1.17 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a dozen Occupy Oakland protesters who were subjected to excessive force by police in October and November 2011. The settlement agreement also requires that police adhere to their crowd-control policy. According to yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle article,

The plaintiffs filed suit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco over their treatment by police on Oct. 25, 2011, when officers clashed with protesters who tried to reoccupy a City Hall camp that officers had cleared earlier in the day. Also included in the suit were allegations that police had acted improperly after a general strike on Nov. 2, 2011, devolved into rioting and more confrontations with police early the next morning.

In addition, Oakland and Alameda County recently agreed to pay $1.025 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by 150 protesters who were arrested and detained on November 5, 2010 for demonstrating against the light sentence former BART officer Johannes Mehserle received after fatally shooting Oscar Grant. The settlement agreement also provides for court enforcement of the Oakland Police Department’s crowd-control policy, which was the result of earlier litigation by protesters, for up to seven years. Moreover, the Oakland Police Department and Alameda Sheriff agreed to implement expedited procedures for processing and releasing people arrested at protests.

oakland police chief used spam filter to avoid seeing occupy-related emails

Beginning on October 27, 2011, certain emails to the Oakland police chief went straight into his junk mail folder, which he never checked. Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle article explains:

People who’ve e-mailed Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan over the past year about Occupy Oakland probably didn’t get much of a response. That’s because he used a spam filter to dismiss messages sent to him with “Occupy Oakland” in the subject line, according to a federal court filing Monday. Same goes for the phrases “stop the excessive police force,” “respect the press pass” or “police brutality.”

Jordan initially used the spam filter to stop a flood of emails related to the October 25, 2011 demonstration at which an Oakland police officer fractured Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen’s skull by firing a lead-filled bean-bag round at his head. Jordan conveniently forgot about the filter until a couple weeks ago, when a judge ordered the city to investigate why Jordan had missed one or more emails from the federal court monitor overseeing the police department’s compliance with court-ordered reforms. Emails containing the phrases listed above will now go to Jordan’s inbox.

oakland police arrested hundreds of protesters in the past year, but prosecutors declined to file charges against the vast majority

As Occupy Oakland plans to retake Oscar Grant Plaza this afternoon, statistics show that 109 people have been criminally charged as a result of Occupy Oakland rallies since police evicted the encampment one year ago today. Yet those rallies resulted in 737 arrests, so the overwhelming majority of arrestees were never charged. Of the arrestees who were charged, 3 went to trial and were found guilty, 22 had their cases dismissed, approximately 30 accepted plea deals, and 55 are still fighting the charges.

In addition, Oakland police chief Howard Jordan announced two weeks ago that 44 officers should be disciplined, including 2 who should be fired, for violating crowd-control policies during Occupy Oakland marches in the past year. None of the proposed punishments immediately took effect, because officers could appeal. Jordan acknowledged that one officer fired a bean-bag round into the head of Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen on October 25, 2011, seriously injuring him, and another officer threw one or more projectiles – apparently a flash-bang grenade – at demonstrators who came to assist the bleeding Olsen.

On December 13, a hearing is scheduled regarding whether a federal judge should order the first takeover of a local police department, the Oakland police, by a federal receiver.