In Need of Some Serious Damage Control

Occupy Oakland: Officials shift into damage control

By Matt Krupnick, Scott Johnson, Sean Maher and Thomas Peele | McClatchy-Tribune News Service

OAKLAND, Calif. — Oakland Mayor Jean Quan shifted into damage control Thursday, asking hospitalized protester Scott Olsen and other Occupy Oakland demonstrators to cooperate with police investigating Olsen’s head injury.

Quan visited Olsen, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran, on Thursday morning at Highland Hospital. Besides encouraging him and others to speak with police, she shook his hand, and apologized for what happened to him, a hospital spokesman said. Olsen was knocked down – apparently by a tear-gas canister or other police projectile – Tuesday night as authorities tried to keep protesters away from Frank Ogawa Plaza, in front of City Hall.

The protest group had been dislodged from their tents on the plaza by police earlier Tuesday.

Oakland police have promised a thorough investigation of the incident, which left Olsen with a brain injury that has impeded his speech. Alameda County prosecutors and federal investigators also planned to look into the violent clash.

The city has tried this week to recover from the confrontation, which attracted an avalanche of criticism from pundits, politicians and protesters. Television host Keith Olbermann called for Quan’s resignation, and White House press secretary Jay Carney, while not singling out Oakland, called on U.S. cities to preserve “a long and noble tradition in the United States of free expression and free speech.” Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore announced Thursday on Twitter that he would arrive at the Oakland site Friday.

Protesters started rebuilding their tent city Thursday, with at least a dozen tents erected on the plaza lawn by the evening. Quan had planned to speak to a large crowd that had gathered in front of City Hall on Thursday night, but she left without speaking because she would have had to wait in line, said her attorney, Dan Siegel.

Police kept a low profile as another crowd of at least 1,000 flocked to the plaza for the second straight evening.

But the heat kept rising Thursday on the Oakland Police Department.

Civil rights attorney Jim Chanin, who has fought the department on many reform issues, said the department on Tuesday had violated its own crowd-control rules, which call for medical services to be available when tear gas and other control measures are used.

Under court order, the department signed a policy requiring the safety precaution, stemming from a 2003 protest in which officers fired “less-than-lethal” munitions on a crowd at the Port of Oakland protesting the war in Iraq.

Oakland’s Interim Police Chief, Howard Jordan, said Thursday investigators were still piecing together accounts from more than a dozen police departments that sent officers to Oakland to raid the encampment. There are numerous videos of evidence to review, Jordan said, and it’s not yet clear where Olsen was when he was injured. Jordan would not speculate whether the Daly City man had been hit by a police projectile such as a tear-gas canister, rubber bullet, wooden dowel or something else.

It’s also not clear whether Tuesday’s clash will further anger Judge Thelton Henderson, who has harshly criticized the Oakland Police Department for a nine-year effort to reform following a major corruption case. Henderson has threatened OPD with a federal takeover, and the department’s reform efforts will be the subject of a hearing in his courtroom in January.

Siegel, who has advised Quan about how to deal with protesters, called Olsen’s injury proof of police misconduct, and City Councilwoman Jane Brunner said the incident is Oakland’s responsibility, no matter which police department hurt the former Marine.

At least one police department suggested officers may not be to blame for the incident.

“I haven’t seen much, but given the nature of that individual’s injuries, I’m wondering if he wasn’t struck by something thrown by a demonstrator,” said Chief Dennis Burns, of the Palo Alto Police Department.

The Oakland City Council will discuss Tuesday’s police response at a special meeting Nov. 3 at City Hall, Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said in a written statement.

Occupiers on Thursday were expanding a shrine to Olsen built around the base of a memorial to military veterans. Vita McDonnell, 24, who was arrested in Tuesday morning’s raid of the encampment, brought a box of candles and notebook in which she is asking people to write notes of encouragement to Olsen and reflections of events of the past several days.

“He was protesting our arrests,” said McDonnell, a health-care assistant. “I felt very touched by it. This is really something I had to do.”

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