Oakland Police Officer Robert Roche—who fired a tear-gas canister in October 2011 at a group of Occupy protesters as they helped a critically injured Iraqi war veteran hit in the head by a police bean bag—was reinstated last week with back pay.
Roche was filmed by a TV camera crew responding to orders to help clear 1,000 demonstrators who had gathered at City Hall in a peaceful protest. Ex-Marine Scott Olsen was standing motionless alongside another ex-soldier, between protesters and police, when his skull was shattered by a bean bag fired from 20 feet away. As people rushed to his aid, Roche tossed tear gas at them.
Olsen was taken to a hospital in critical condition and treated for skull, neck and facial fractures. Part of his skull was removed to help relieve pressure from cerebral hemorrhage. Olsen lost the ability to speak, which he has somewhat recovered, and still suffers from memory problems.
But he was well enough to tell the Oakland Tribune, “I think that throwing a grenade at people who are trying to help an injured person is one of the most malicious things you can do. He is clearly a sadistic person.”
Sergeant Barry Donelan, who heads the police union, had a diffent take.”Roche is a phenomenal police officer, and he was scapegoated like all the other officers from the Occupy experience,” he told the newspaper.
Olsen sued the city and was awarded $4.5 million. The officer who shot him was never named.
The incident was yet another polarizing event in the history of one of the nation’s more beleaguered police departments. The city has been operating under a Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) and federal oversight since settling the “Rough Riders” civil lawsuit in 2003, which required the police department to institute 51 reforms.
The Rough Riders were a rogue group of officers who attracted national attention by planting evidence, using excessive force and falsifying police reports. The department continues to be the focus of repeated investigations and the subject of lawsuits claiming police abuse.
The police department said Roche used unreasonable force and fired him but he appealed and last week an arbiter saw it his way. Roche argued that he was only following the orders of then-Captain Paul Figueroa to disperse the crowd, the cannister could not be precisely controlled and he didn’t know someone was critically injured on the ground.
Figueroa has since been promoted to assistant chief and is the department’s Number 2 officer.