NLG Obtains $1.17M, OPD Reforms for Occupy Oakland Protesters and Journalists

The Oakland City Council approved a 1,170,000 settlement Tuesday night in a civil rights lawsuit brought by a National Lawyers Guild legal team on behalf of journalist Scott Campbell and 11 other persons who were injured in the Oakland Police Department's violent response to Occupy Oakland in the fall of 2011. The lawsuit, Campbell et al v. City of Oakland, CV11-5498 JST, challenged OPD's unlawful use of shotgun-fired, lead shot filled "beanbag" rounds, explosive teargas filled blast grenades, and other unconstitutional force and arrests against protesters on October 25 and Nov. 2, 2011.

The settlement overlaps with a separate $1,025,000 settlement announced on June 23, in Spalding v. City of Oakland, CV11-2867 TEH, a class action lawsuit brought by the NLG on behalf of 150 Justice for Oscar Grant protesters who were illegally arrested in 2010. As part of both settlements, the City and OPD have agreed to abide by a negotiated crowd control policy which prohibits impact munitions and explosives from being used in the manner they were used during the Occupy events, and sets guidelines for constitutional policing of demonstrations and other crowd events; requires OPD to negotiate with the NLG and ACLU concerning any revisions to the crowd control policy; and provides that United States District Court Judge Thelton Henderson will have the power to enforce compliance with the settlement, including the crowd control policy, for up to seven years. In addition, records of arrests made in both cases will be sealed and destroyed.

"We brought both lawsuits in order to stop OPD's dangerous and illegal repression of political protest and the City government's tolerance of repeated, pervasive police misconduct," explained lead attorney Rachel Lederman. "The same officers shot longshoremen and protesters with so-called less lethal munitions during a peaceful antiwar picket at the Port of Oakland in 2003. At that time, the City and Police also agreed to stop those practices and adopt a model policy for constitutional policing of demonstrations, but OPD chose to scrap all that and repeat the same mistakes as soon as they were faced with large protests over the killing of Oscar Grant and Occupy Oakland. As a result, many people who were lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights were arrested and/or injured."

One such person was 32 year old journalist Scott Campbell, whose inadvertent video of himself being shot by an OPD officer went viral following the fall, 2011, Occupy demonstrations. Campbell said, “This is an important victory because it provides compensation for victims of police violence, and it shows that the Oakland police cannot get away with violating the rights of demonstrators. As the police’s own footage from my shooting shows, they willfully violated their own crowd control policy: shooting me for coming close to an imaginary line known only to them, and then joking about it. This misconduct not only violated OPD's own Crowd Control Policy but was potentially lethal, and no laughing matter.” Never previously released video of the Campbell shooting here Campbell will receive $150,000 as part of the settlement.

Suzi Spangenberg, a 52 year old seminarian, said, "I was in the middle of telling OPD I loved them when they threw explosives at me. The loud explosion caused permanent hearing loss and unrelenting ringing in my ears. As a result, I can only sleep 2 hours at a time which has had a serious impact on my life, including adversely impacting my graduate school studies, when I graduate, and when I will be ordained. It is my hope that there will never be cause for this type of lawsuit again, and the City can instead focus its resources on supporting the marginalized and those most in need of resources -- which is what we were protesting for." Spangenberg will receive $500,000 as part of the settlement.

19 year old Sukay Sow went to the Oct. 25, 2011, Occupy demonstration with her mother, and was searching for her younger brother to go home when she too was struck with an explosive grenade. The chemical agent burned off the top of her foot and left her in agony. "I was terrified to go to another protest of any kind," said Sow. "But the settlement makes me feel that maybe I can speak my mind without getting hurt again." Sow will receive $210,000 as part of the settlement.

These settlements are an important victory for democracy,” said Bobbie Stein, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys. ”We are hopeful that with these settlements, and the reform process under the watch of the new Compliance Director, we will achieve a culture shift in the Oakland Police Department and end the brutalization and wrongful arrests of activists and people of color in Oakland. While we remain optimistic, we are mindful of the 10 year history of broken promises, and we will be watching carefully and ready to take further action if necessary."

Additional Background on the Campbell Litigation (pdf)