by Charlton “Chuck” Stanley, Weekend Contributor
The city of Oakland has entered into an agreed order to pay former Marine and two-tour Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen $4.5 million. This is, as lawyers say, “to make him whole.” Unfortunately, Scott will never be whole again. The night of October 25, 2011 he was shot in the head by a police officer using a shotgun loaded with a “non-lethal” beanbag. Upon being hit, the former Marine went down like a sack of potatoes. His skull was fractured, he was bleeding heavily and his neck was broken.
When others rushed to his side to render first aid and assistance, Oakland Police officer Robert Roche heaved a flash-bang grenade into the group trying to render first aid and remove Scott from the scene.
Many videos were made from a number of angles, some of them going viral on the Internet within minutes of being uploaded. Initially, it was believed he was hit with a tear gas canister, but the green residue from the bean bag on his hat revealed the truth of how the injury occurred.
It is not clear if Roche was the same officer who fired the bean bag from a shotgun, but there are a number of photos and videos which show him holding a shotgun. I have looked at a number of photos and videos, and in a couple of them, it appears he is holding the shotgun in what is called a “high ready” position. Unfortunately, the pictures I have seen are grainy and poorly lighted, so details are hard to make out. Roche was identified by his rank (acting sergeant) and the numbers “35” visible on his helmet. Roche was the only acting sergeant in the vicinity, and his helmet number was 357. The Tango Team officers had three number identifiers and he was the only officer whose first two numbers were 35. Roche has since been fired, but is now trying to get his job back.
At the time he was shot in the head, Olsen was standing about fifteen feet from the police line. He was wearing his Marine fatigues and a cloth hat. The bean bag rounds leave a green residue, and there was green residue from the bean bag on Scott Olsen’s hat. For those not familiar with the bean bag round, the bean bags are not full of beans. They are actually a cloth pouch filled with lead shot and fired from a 12-gauge shotgun. They are both dense and heavy, and at close range, they are little more than a shotgun slug, which is anything but non-lethal.
The response of Oakland police to the Occupy Oakland on October 25, 2011 was investigated by former compliance director Tom Frazier and Independent Court Monitor Robert Warshaw. Thomas Frazier is a former Baltimore city police commissioner. He was employed by the San Jose Police Department for 27 years.
Frazier’s report was devastating. At one point, an officer from the Criminal Investigations Division, assigned to assist with the investigation, was accused of compromising the case. Frazier made it clear that he did not believe the incident reports of the Tango Team officers. None of the officers on the scene admitted seeing Olsen fall. They also denied seeing the flash-bang grenade thrown at the injured Olsen and the medics assisting him. Frazier wrote, “After review of hours of video footage involving the injured party (who appears to be approximately 15-25 feet in front of the police skirmish line when he was struck and fell to the ground), the fact that no law enforcement officer, supervisor, or commander observed the person falling down or prostrate in the street during the confrontation was unsettling and not believable.”
That’s the way you call someone a bald-faced liar without actually using the word “lie.”
It gets better. City Administrator Deanna Santana, who hired Frazier to do the investigation, later tried to get him to redact portions of his report, and requested he send the report to her in Microsoft Word format. She also wanted him to send it to her private Comcast email account rather than through public channels. Santana wanted to edit and sanitize the report before any of Mayor Quan’s aides—or the public–saw it.
About that settlement. The city of Oakland will pay $1.8 million, and the city’s insurance company will pay the $2.7 million difference. As of this date, Scott Olsen’s medical expenses are in the neighborhood of a quarter million dollars, and he is only 27 years old. He is looking at a lifetime of disability, lost opportunity, lost wages, and a lost life. I don’t know the extent of his injuries, and would have to review his medical and neuropsychological records to understand just what functions he has lost. However, it is likely he suffered extensive cognitive and motor function losses that will never be recovered.
And officer Robert Roche wants his job back. A footnote, this officer has killed three young men in the line of duty so far in his career. Justified? Who knows. The police reports say they were justified shootings, and maybe they were. But. given the findings of Thomas Frazier about the willingness of Oakland police officers to lie, mislead or omit critical information from their incident reports, it’s not likely we will ever know for sure.
I wish Scott Olsen well and hope his healing continues. Semper Fi.
Oakland City Attorney press release
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