Oakland crafts $1.1 million settlement for injured Occupy protesters

Police move in on Occupy Oakland protesters as tear gas gets blown back on them in Oakland last January.
(Jane Tyska / EPA)

OAKLAND — City officials have crafted a $1.17-million settlement to a civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of a dozen people who were injured by police during Occupy Oakland protests in the fall of 2011.

The suit, filed by the National Lawyers Guild, challenged the Police Department’s use of shotgun-fired beanbags stuffed with lead shot, and teargas grenades, as well as allegedly unconstitutional arrests and use of force.

The City Council voted in closed session last month to put the settlement, which admits no fault on the part of the city, on the consent calendar for its open meeting July 16, city attorney’s spokesman Alex Katz said Wednesday.

Katz and Rachel Lederman, the lead attorney for the National Lawyers Guild, said changes to the settlement by council members at that open session would be unlikely.

According to the agreement, among those to be compensated is journalist Scott Campbell, who can be heard on his own video asking a line of riot gear-clad officers if his filming was “OK” before he was shot at close range in the upper thigh with a beanbag projectile.


Campbell, who will receive $150,000, said additional footage shot by officers that night 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.”

The largest payout will go to Suzi Spangenberg, a 52-year-old seminarian who said she was “in the middle of telling OPD I loved them when they threw explosives at me.” She suffered permanent hearing loss and constant ringing in her ears and will receive $500,000.

Sukay Sow, 19, who was at a demonstration with her mother and younger brother, will receive $210,000. She was struck with an explosive grenade that badly burned her foot and left permanent scarring.

The settlement, Sow said in a statement, “makes me feel that maybe I can speak my mind without getting hurt again.”

The tentative agreement comes less than two weeks after another settlement was approved for $1 million on behalf of 150 protesters who took to the streets in 2010 after Oscar Grant, unarmed and restrained on his stomach, was shot in the back and killed by a BART police officer.

The payouts come as a federal court-appointed compliance director overseeing a decade-old civil rights settlement agreement signaled that the Oakland Police Department was making good progress on reforms.

As part of both settlements, the city and its Police Department have agreed to abide by a negotiated crowd control policy that prohibits impact munitions and explosives from being used in the manner they were used during the Occupy protests, and sets guidelines for constitutional policing of demonstrations and other crowd events, according to the lawyer’s guild.

It also requires the Police Department to negotiate any revisions to its crowd control policy with the guild and the American Civil Liberties Union, and gives U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson — who is enforcing compliance with the decade-old civil rights settlement — power over this settlement for up to seven years.

Lastly, records of arrests made in both cases will be sealed and destroyed.

The department brass was overhauled earlier this year, and compliance Director Thomas Frazier — who as a consultant had earlier criticized the department’s response to Occupy Oakland — has commended Interim Chief Sean Whent on his leadership.

“We’re hopeful that this will finally result in some change,” Lederman said in an interview.


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