Iraq War Veteran Scott Olsen Reaches $4.5M Settlement in Occupy Oakland Bean Bag Case

An Iraq war veteran whose skull was fractured by a police bean bag during the Occupy Oakland protest has settled with the city for $4.5 million, his attorneys announced Friday, as part of a federal civil lawsuit.

After he was struck with a lead-filled bean bag fire by a police officer from 20 feet away on Oct. 25, 2011, Scott Olsen, who was 24 at the time, suffered a skull fracture and permanent brain damage.

Today, Olsen can speak and do basic tasks. But, according to a recent interview with the East Bay Express, his memory, concentration and speech are still impaired, and he still owes $200,000 in medical expenses.

According to his suit, Olsen is unable to work as he once did as a computer systems administrator at Opswat in San Francisco.

"I didn't win, uh, part of my brain back that's dead," Olsen said, faltering a bit at a Friday news conference outside Oakland City Hall. "Um, but you know, I.. I... It's hard, it was a hard recovery process. This isn't everything."

In a statement, city attorney Barbara Parker said: "Mr. Olsen suffered a tragic injury that will affect him for the rest of his life. This settlement will save the city the far greater costs of a trial and potentially much higher judgment. This is a fair settlement given the facts of the case and the significant injuries Mr. Olsen sustained.”

Oakland will pay Olsen $1.8 million, according to the city, with the rest paid by the city's insurance company.

Olsen, in many ways, became the national symbol for what the "99 percent" viewed as police brutality during the Occupy movement. Vigils for his recovery at Occupy camps across the country, including in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, were held -- all in Olsen's name.

His past -- serving two tours of duty in Iraq as a Marine -- galvanized the already disenfranchised protesters, and became a negative, lasting PR nightmare for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who came under attack for not doing more to control what many saw as an overzealous police department.

Quan was on her way back from Washington, D.C., when this protest occurred, and police had evicted the Occupy camp from Frank Ogawa Plaza, prompting a crush of people to return to downtown later in the day.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Quan said, "We wish the best to Mr. Olsen and hope for success in his continued recovery."

Scott Olsen outside court, Friday, March 21, 2014.
Olsen (right) outside of court Friday, March 21, 2014.

“I want Oakland to know that because of that evening’s events we took determined, constructive steps to change our policing procedures,” Quan said in the statement.

In March 2012, Olsen told NBC Bay Area that he was was demonstrating peacefully the night he was injured, and was there for only 30 minutes before he was struck.  He didn't know what had happened at first and didn't realize the extent of his injuries until people started asking his name and he couldn't answer.  Early reports were that he was hit with a tear gas cannister, not a bean bag.

A YouTube video (see video below)  shows bystanders yelling "medic! medic!" as Olsen was carted away on a stretcher after he was hit by the projectile at close range. He had gone to downtown Oakland in military fatigues, and was "standing still and quiet," according to his suit, in support of the Occupy movement, including its opposition against the U.S. military involvement in Iraq. His attorneys created a video montaage of that night and released it on Friday.

Olsen first filed a federal lawsuit (PDF) in December 2012. In it, his attorneys, James B. Chanin and  Rachel Lederman, president of the National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, claimed that Oakland police violated Olsen's rights to free speech by not training their officers properly and going against their own department policy of using bean bags for crowd control.

Olsen's suit also named  former Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, Officer Robert Roche, Sgt. Roland Holmgren, then-Capt. Paul Figueroa, who is now assistant chief, as defendants.

In July 2013, Oakland agreed to pay $1.7 million claims from 12 Occupy protesters -- including a man who filmed a police officer who shot him in the leg with a lead beanbag -- resolving the first of several police misconduct lawsuits Oakland faces from Occupy protests.

Olsen lived in Daly City at the time. He now lives in Oakland.
NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith and Jodi Hernandez contributed to this report.

Contact Us