NLG Says, NO LESS LETHALS - Demands City Leaders Ban "Less Lethal" Munitions for Crowd Control
The Oakland City Council is expected to approve a $4.5 million settlement payment today to Scott Olsen, the young veteran who was shot in the head by an OPD officer at a 2011 Occupy Oakland demonstration. Olsen’s skull was shattered and part of his brain was destroyed by the lead-filled “beanbag”, also known as a Specialty Impact Munition (SIM). As Olsen lay critically injured on the pavement, an OPD officer threw a CS Blast grenade onto him - a teargas device that explodes with a flash of light and loud bang. The National Lawyers Guild is calling on Mayor Quan and the Oakland City Council to ban OPD from using SIM and CS Blast grenades at demonstrations and other crowd events, and has launched a petition drive, NO LESS LETHALS.
In addition to Scott Olsen, at least a dozen other people were injured by so-called "less lethal" weapons at the Occupy demonstrations, even though OPD's own policies and federal court orders specify that these weapons may not be fired into crowds. As a result, the City of Oakland has had to pay out more than $7 million in legal settlements to people who have been injured by SIM or CS Blasts. The injuries include serious burns, permanent hearing loss, broken bones, crushed nerves and scarring.
“If OPD is allowed to continue to shoot SIM and toss explosives into crowds, it is only a matter of time before someone is killed,” said Jim Chanin, one of Olsen’s attorneys. “In 2003 in Boston, a college student who was out celebrating a Red Sox victory died as a result of being struck with what was thought to be a relatively safe, small plastic SIM, intended for someone else in the crowd.”
NLGSF president Rachel Lederman, who also represents Olsen, explained that, “OPD too readily turns to teargas as a way of dispersing crowds. The CS Blast grenades are particularly dangerous themselves, because not only do they cause serious chemical burns, but the loud sound can cause permanent severe tinnitus and hearing loss. But to make matters worse, OPD deploys SIM into the crowd at the same time that the CS Blasts and other teargas devices are causing panic, chaos and clouds of gas. It’s inevitable that random people are going to be shot and that some shots will hit parts of the body where they can cause serious injury or death.”
“Other major Bay Area cities don't use SIM, chemical agents or explosives on crowds, and we don't need them in Oakland,” said Scott Olsen. “OPD can’t be trusted to abide by its policies. These dangerous weapons must be completely banned at demonstrations and other crowd events. ”
In addition to the $4.5 million settlement in Olsen v. City of Oakland, 3:12-cv-6333 SI, in 2013, the City paid $1,170,000 to a dozen other people who were injured by OPD during the fall, 2011, Occupy Oakland events, as a result of a lawsuit brought by National Lawyers Guild attorneys, Campbell et al. v. City of Oakland, 3:11-cv- 5498 JST. In 2004, OPD had agreed to strictly limit its use of SIM and chemical agents in settlement of litigation over its use of “less lethal” munitions on antiwar picketers and longshoremen at the Port of Oakland. The settlements in those cases totaled about $2 million and included a comprehensive Crowd Control Policy that was negotiated between OPD, the NLG and the ACLU. In 2013, that Policy was re-affirmed and made enforceable as part of the Campbell et al. settlement and the settlement in another NLG case arising from mass arrests of protesters, Spalding v. City of Oakland, C11-2867 TEH. However, OPD has refused to entirely forego use of SIM and CS Blasts even though the manner in which it deploys the munitions violates the Crowd Control Policy.
The NLG has supported social justice activists for decades, training legal observers and providing pro bono attorneys for activists arrested at demonstrations. Founded in 1937, the non-profit legal and political organization of lawyers, legal workers, law students and jailhouse lawyers uses the law to protect human rights above property interests and to attain social justice.