SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Oakland police shot an Iraq war veteran in the head with a bean bag round during Occupy Oakland protests last year, inflicting permanent brain injuries and nearly killing him, the man claims in a federal civil rights complaint.
Scott Olsen served two tours of duty as a Marine in Iraq. He sued the city and its police force, claiming the Oct. 25, 2011 attack violated the police department's "own prohibition against using bean bag rounds for crowd control purposes; [and] OPD's prohibition against firing a bean bag round at a person's head in any circumstances."
Olsen says he became "disillusioned with the United States' military operation there." After his discharge in 2009 he became involved with Iraq Veterans Against the War, which has advocated for withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Middle East since 2004.
Olsen says he "was standing still and quiet with another veteran between protesters and a line of law enforcement officers as a statement of support for the Occupy movement, including its opposition to U.S. military involvement in Iraq. A line of law enforcement officers was about 20 feet away from Mr. Olsen. Without warning, one of the officer fired a high-velocity round made of metal pellets (a 'bean bag' round) at Mr. Olsen, hitting him in the head. The impact fractured Mr. Olsen's skull and caused severe hemorrhaging of his brain. As a result of his injuries, Mr. Olsen lost his ability to speak and perform basic mental and physical functions. Although he has recovered much of his speech and functions through intensive therapy, he still frequently has difficulty speaking, concentrating, and remembering things."
Olsen attended the march in his military uniform, which he hoped would counter criticism that the movement was un-American.
Neither Olsen nor his friend, also a veteran, "did anything that was or could have been interpreted as illegal, dangerous or threatening. They simply stood there still and quiet between the other protesters and the police officers," the complaint states.
"Bean bag rounds are fired at high velocity and cause severe pain and bruising when they strike soft tissue. They are designed and intended to be fired directly at and strike persons unlike, for example, a tear gas canister which is designed and intended to be fired near but not directly at individuals. Because of the damage and injury that bean bag rounds cause, the Oakland Police Department policy prohibits their use for crowd control purposes, and prohibits firing them at the neck or head of an individual," Olsen says in his complaint.
But one officer, whom Olsen says the city of Oakland has refused to name, did just that.
"Without warning, an Oakland police officer (Doe 1) located about 20 feet away from Scott Olsen and armed with a high-powered rifle loaded with a bean bag round, aimed his weapon at Scott Olsen and fired. The bean bag round struck Mr. Olsen in the head, fracturing his skull in several places and causing trauma and hemorrhaging to his brain. Mr. Olsen immediately fell to the street. Either the fall or the initial impact of the bean bag round fractured both a vertebra in Mr. Olsen's neck and his facial orbital bone," the complaint states.
Olsen claims that officers kept Occupy protesters from helping him after his skull was broken.