In what appears to be the first serious injury nationwide in the Occupy Wall Street movement, a 24-year-old Iraq War veteran lay in an Oakland hospital Wednesday night with a critical skull fracture, adding a new level of intensity in a mass demonstration that has swept the country and led to clashes with police.
Scott Thomas Olsen, 24, of Daly City, was struck in the head above his right eye with a tear-gas canister during a massive confrontation Tuesday night in which protesters threw rocks and bottles at police officers who deployed tear gas and fired bean bags to disperse the crowd of about 1,000.
"It's absolutely unconscionable that our citizens are going overseas to protect other citizens just to come back and have our own police hurt them," said Joshua Shepherd, a six-year Navy veteran and friend of Olsen.
Wednesday night, protesters ripped down a chain-link fence around the lawn at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza and at least 1,000 protesters chanted "our park" as they considered plans to try to encourage city businesses and workers to go on strike Friday. Police were not at the scene early Wednesday evening, but officers were expected to stage at two different downtown locations.
Earlier, police had removed the portable metal barriers from around Frank H. Ogawa Plaza and about 200 protesters immediately returned, pumping their fists in the air and vowing to reclaim the place they now call Oscar Grant Plaza, after a man who was killed by BART police in 2009.
Mayor under fire
Wednesday afternoon, many gathered to hold a vigil for the injured Marine corporal, who hails from Onalaska, Wisc.
"He survived two tours in Iraq," said Adele Carpenter, a friend of Olsen's and a member of the Civilian Soldier Alliance. "This struggle has high stakes, I really respect the fact that Scott was standing up for what he believes in. He's really passionate about social justice causes."
Acting police Chief Howard Jordan said the incident is under investigation by Internal Affairs, Office of Investigator General, Alameda County District Attorney's Office and the federal monitor that oversees Oakland police as a part of a settlement police corruption lawsuit. Oakland police will also review its training, policies and procedures.
Jordan called the incident "unfortunate," adding that he wished it did not happen. "The goal is not to cause injury," he said.
He said Oakland police used bean bags and gas but do not use or have rubber bullets or wooden dowels. It is possible that other agencies did, he said. More than a dozen from across Northern California assisted Oakland police under what is called a mutual aid agreement. They are, however, required to comply with Oakland policies.
The Oakland Police Department has requested use of force reports from the outside agencies.
Meanwhile, Mayor Jean Quan has come under fire for the situation. Her Facebook page has drawn comments from at least 8,900 people, many posting negative remarks on her Tuesday morning statement commending police, firefighters and public works crews who "worked over the past week to peacefully close the encampment." The comments call for her ouster, say she is unfit for office, and say she should be ashamed of how police acted.
Officers also injured
Olsen, a systems analyst at a San Francisco IT firm called OPSWAT, had camped out for several nights at San Francisco's occupation before moving to Oakland a few days ago.
Olsen was one of several hundred angry protesters who swarmed through Oakland's downtown well into the morning hours on Wednesday, repeatedly clashing with riot police. In some cases, protesters threw bottles and tipped over garbage containers. Oakland police said two of its officers were injured when a protester doused them with cans of blue and pink paint.
Protesters lambasted the police response as "heavy handed" and criticized the use of projectiles such as the one that struck Olsen.
"He was shot by the people who were supposed to protect him," said Keith Shannon, 24, Olsen's Daly City roommate and former Marine colleague. "It shows what lengths the government will go to to suppress opposing points of view."
Olsen served two tours of duty in Iraq, once to the Iraqi-Syrian border city of Al Qaim from August 2006 to May 2007, and once to Haditha, in 2008. Both cities were hotbeds of al-Qaida and insurgent activity.
In 2010, the Marines issued Olsen an "administrative discharge." Maj. Shawn Haney, a Marines spokesman based in Quantico, Va., declined to discuss Olsen's discharge, but said his departure could have been for anything from a medical condition to a punitive measure.
Another young man, a 30-year-old Irish national named Seamus, lay writhing on the ground sobbing Wednesday afternoon clutching a grapefruit-sized bruise above his left hip. He said he and Olsen had been together when Olsen was hit. Seamus said his bruise was the result of a police projectile. Other protesters gathered around Seamus and showed off small rubber buckshot pellets they said police had fired at them.
Olsen's parents planned to fly to Oakland on Thursday to see their son. Highland Hospital administrators said Olsen remained in critical condition, with no change in his status since his admission Tuesday night. But friends and acquaintances said hospital officials told them Olsen had suffered a skull fracture and was at risk of brain damage.
Staff writers Kristin J. Bender and Angela Woodall contributed to this story.