Report criticizes Oakland police handling of Occupy protests

(Reuters) - Oakland police used “an overwhelming military-type response” to disperse Occupy Oakland demonstrators and fired at a former Marine and Iraq war veteran who was critically injured in the clashes in October, according to a report issued on Monday.

Oakland police block access to a street as Occupy Oakland demonstrators take part in an anti-police march against the Oakland Police Department in Oakland, California February 4, 2012. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

The report by an outside monitor of the Oakland Police Department came one day before anti-Wall Street protesters plan nationwide rallies on May 1, with Occupy Oakland demonstrators vowing to take over San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

Oakland’s police practices came under intense scrutiny last year when former Marine Scott Olsen was critically injured during a demonstration in October. Protesters said he was hit in the head by a tear gas canister.

The report concludes, for the first time from an official source, that police did fire at and hit Olsen that evening. An Oakland Police Department SWAT team member fired a beanbag round at Olsen, striking him in the head, according to the report.

“We have viewed many official and unofficial video clips of the Occupy Oakland-related incidents,” the report said. “These recordings lead us to ask additional questions as the level of force that was used by OPD officers, and whether that use of force was in compliance with the Department’s use of force policies.”

The beanbag rounds fired that night leave a green residue, which was found on the hat Olsen was wearing that night, later retrieved by police, according to the report.

Olsen’s case reinvigorated the Occupy movement against economic inequality, and the confrontations with police in subsequent protests turned Oakland into a focal point for the movement as demonstrators rallied against what they described as police brutality.

The Oakland Police Department has been subject to court-ordered external monitoring and review since the 2003 settlement of what was known as the Riders case, in which four officers were accused of planting evidence, fabricating police reports and using unlawful force, according to the Oakland police.

Monday’s report was the latest in a series designed to monitor and enforce compliance with the court-ordered reforms, known as the Negotiated Settlement Agreement.

“We were, in some instances, satisfied with the performance of the Department; yet in others, we were thoroughly dismayed by what we observed,” police monitor Robert Warshaw wrote in his quarterly report.

The police department announced last week that it was making significant changes to how it trains officers to control large crowds following criticism over its practices during Occupy Oakland protests that sometimes turned violent. It received more than 1,000 misconduct complaints during those protests.

“OPD has turned the corner,” Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said in a statement upon the report’s release. “My vision is to make Oakland one of the safer major cities in California.”

Editing by Edith Honan and Anthony Boadle