Scott Olsen survived two tours in Iraq but almost died when he was hit with a police projectile at an Occupy Oakland protest in 2011. He was hospitalized in critical condition with a fractured skull, a broken neck vertebrae and brain swelling. At the time of the shooting, Olsen was wearing fatigues and a Veterans for Peace T-shirt. Moments after he was shot, police fired a bright flash grenade at a group of Occupy protesters who attempted to help treat him. Soon after that, protesters carried Olsen away as blood streamed down his face. Scott was later released from the hospital and sued the Oakland Police Department. He announced today on Democracy Now! he had reached a seven-figure settlement.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a Democracy Now! exclusive. In a minute we’ll be joined by Scott Olsen, a former marine who served two tours in the Iraq War only to be critically wounded when he was shot in the head by a police projectile during a protest in 2011 at Occupy Oakland. He was hospitalized in critical condition with a fractured skull, a broken neck vertebrae and brain swelling. At the time of the shooting, Olsen was wearing fatigues and a Veterans for Peace T-shirt. Moments after he was shot, police fired a bright flash grenade at a group of Occupy protesters who attempted to help treat him. Soon after that, protesters carried Olsen away as blood streamed down his face. Video of the incident went viral.
PROTESTER 1: Medic!
PROTESTER 2: We need a medic! Medic! Medic!
PROTESTER 3: What happened? What happened?
PROTESTER 2: He got [bleep] shot!
PROTESTER 3: What’s your name? What’s your name?
PROTESTER 2: What’s your name?
PROTESTER 4: Dude, wake up!
PROTESTER 3: What’s your name?
PROTESTER 4: What’s your name?
PROTESTER 5: Can you say anything?
PROTESTER 3: Medic!
PROTESTER 3: Whoa! [bleep]! Hey, back up! Back up! Back up!
AMY GOODMAN: Protests condemning the police use of force were held around the country. The incident galvanized the Occupy movement in Oakland. Within a week, a general strike temporarily shut down the Oakland ports.
Scott Olsen was later released from the hospital and sued the Oakland Police Department. Today, he’s joining us from Berkeley to announce a settlement in his case.
Scott Olsen, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the lawsuit and the settlement that you have now reached?
SCOTT OLSEN: Yes. We—earlier in this week, we reached a settlement with the city of Oakland. And, you know, it was a long process. It took two-and-a-half years almost to get to this point. And we’re going to announce further details at a press conference later in the morning in Oakland, but I’m happy with the way this lawsuit has turned out. [Editor’s Note: Olsen later announced a settlement totalling $4.5 million.] It has been a very stressful experience having to deal with it. So, for that reason alone, I’m happy that it’s over.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Scott, you had originally said when you filed the lawsuit that you were intent on bringing it to trial, because you wanted to have the facts come out. Your decision to agree to a settlement and why you felt it was best to do it at this point?
SCOTT OLSEN: Well, going to trial would have meant even more stress, and it would have taken a lot more time. It could have taken an extra year or two. And, you know, that’s kind of just a reality I had to deal with. And yeah, I—part of me does wish we had gone to trial, but this is what’s going to work out for me better, I think, and hopefully for pushing forward for change in Oakland police policy.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott, I know in your news conference you’re going to announce more details, but can you share with us what the settlement is with the Oakland police?
SCOTT OLSEN: No, we’re saving the amounts of the settlement for our press conference. But, you know, whatever the amount is, it’s certainly not enough to make up for a part of my brain that is dead and will forever be dead. And—but it will hopefully—or, it will be enough for me to make it easier to get by from day to day, especially since I’m looking at having more likely to have further medical problems down the road in 20, 30 or more years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Scott, you’re the last of several people who sued the Oakland police as a result of police abuse during that period of time. Do you get a sense that there’s a real determination to change policies by the Oakland officials?
SCOTT OLSEN: Well, I think that having these lawsuits could be enough to bring some accountability to the police. And as far as I know, I’m the last outstanding case from Occupy with police brutality in Oakland. And, you know, it’s important that they need to know that if they use these weapons, the beanbags and the CS flashbangs, and they use them against a crowd-control policy that they’ve already agreed to, and they blatantly violate that, then they shouldn’t be allowed to use these weapons at all, if they can’t play by the rules that they’ve been given.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott, what is the extent of the injury to your brain, and how will it impact you in the future?
SCOTT OLSEN: Well, there’s—there’s a portion of my left frontal lobe which is dead. And, you know, that manifests itself in different like cognitive problems—fatigue, memory, planning and things like this. So, it’s—it made it very difficult when I tried to return to employment, and it makes that unrealistic for me. And, you know, it’s very—I’m at a much greater risk of, down the line, developing dementia, Alzheimer’s or other cognitive issues.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott, in the settlement, can you give us a sense of the range? Are we talking seven figures? Are we talking in the millions?
SCOTT OLSEN: Yes, it’s seven figures.
AMY GOODMAN: And are—is there any deal you have made with the police around their behavior and changes in how they deal with people in protests?
SCOTT OLSEN: No, no deal has been made, but we are going to put pressure on or work with the police for—you know, our first step is to disallow the use of the weapons that they attacked me with. The beanbags and the flashbangs were both key in what happened to me. They used the flashbangs, and they are designed to cause panic. They are designed to cause people to scatter. Now, you can’t safely fire beanbags into a crowd after you deploy those flashbangs. You can’t hit the target, because people are going to be running.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you know what you were hit by?
SCOTT OLSEN: I was hit with a beanbag round, which is fired out of a shotgun. And it’s like a nylon sock with 40 grams of lead pellets. And it was from about a distance of about 15 feet.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Scott, we want to thank you so much for being with us, and we will cover your news conference later today. Where are you holding it?
SCOTT OLSEN: It’s at Oscar Grant Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall at 10:00 a.m.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Olsen, former marine who served two tours in the Iraq War, was critically wounded after being shot—not in Iraq, but shot in the head by a police projectile at Occupy Oakland, hospitalized in critical condition with fractured skull, broken neck vertebrae, brain swelling, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Thanks so much for joining us. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.