Oakland, California's police chief announced he would seek disciplinary action against 44 police officers for excessive use of force and other offenses against mostly peaceful Occupy Oakland protesters over the past year.
The San Jose Mercury Newsreports that the disciplinary action, the largest in the department's history, would include the firing of two officers.
Chief Howard Jordan announced his plans on Friday as a summary of a number of internal affairs investigations of officer misconduct during the Occupy protests was released. Public outcry over police brutality and other misconduct prompted the probes; the city received around 1,000 complaints related to the handling of the Occupy demonstrations.
Chief Jordan called the discipline recommendations "a reflection of how we want to improve how we treat people," adding that he had an "obligation" to hold his officers "accountable."
The misconduct found during the course of those investigations ranges from minor infractions to lying, making unjustified arrests and outright brutality.
Without naming any names, Chief Jordan also admitted that it was an Oakland officer (many law enforcement agencies participated in containing and dispersing Occupy protests) who fired a "less lethal" beanbag projectile from a shotgun into the head of US Marine and two-tour Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen. Olsen suffered a fractured skull and was hospitalized in serious condition. Jordan did not say whether the officer who wounded Olsen was one of the two targeted for termination.
On October 25, 2011, police arrested more than 100 people as they forcefully evicted the Occupy Oakland encampment in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, renamed Oscar Grant Plaza by protesters in honor of the unarmed, handcuffed 22-year-old father slain by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle in 2009. The next day, hundreds of mostly peaceful Occupy demonstrators took to the streets of Oakland and were met by rubber-coated steel bullets, chemical agents including tear gas, concussion grenades and other "less lethal" projectiles. Fringe pseudo-anarchist elements among the otherwise peaceful demonstrators provoked police by hurling projectiles at officers, who responded with increased force. Scott Olsen was wounded during the course of the evening's protests.
A week later, Kayvan Sabehgi, a former US Army Ranger who served tours in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, was trying to make his way home after participating in the mostly peaceful November 2 Oakland General Strike when he was detained and severely beaten by Oakland police. Sabehgi suffered a ruptured spleen and required hospitalization in an intensive care unit as a result of the beating.
At a January 7, 2012 Occupy Oakland protest, police knocked down and clubbed a young woman on a bicycle. Later that month, Oakland police once again resorted to beating protesters as they arrested 400 people at another Occupy demonstration. At least half a dozen journalists were among the arrested.
The brutal manner in which many Oakland officers responded to the mostly peaceful Occupy protesters shocked the conscience of many in Oakland and beyond and led to changes in the way the city's police department trains officers in crowd control techniques. The reputation of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who apologized to Occupy Oakland protesters following the October 25 eviction, has suffered as a result of the city's handling of the demonstrations.
Federal authorities also took note of Oakland's excessively violent response to the protests. In May, US District Judge Thelton Henderson issued an ultimatum to the city threatening sanctions if authorities failed to adequately address the flood of citizen complaints about the heavy-handed tactics employed by police against the protesters.
Oakland police bristled at the criticism.
"I've never seen anything like this," Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers' Association, told the San Jose Mercury News. "The city is focused on persecuting hardworking police officers and there is no interest in prosecuting criminals," he added, accusing city leaders of "indecisive leadership" in dealing with the Occupy movement.
"There was absolutely no leadership by the city leaders in this whole situation and these poor officers were left to fend for themselves," Donelan said. "It would be nice if the city officials that put us in this position were facing the same type of discipline."
Reuters reports that some 40 Oakland officers have been punished so far, with two fired, 15 suspended and numerous others receiving some sort of discipline.
Occupy Wall Street, of which Occupy Oakland is a part, is a leaderless, democratic, grass roots movement formed in 2011 in response to rampant corporate greed and economic inequality. After its inception in New York's Zuccotti Park last September, the movement spread to hundreds of cities and towns around the world.