Oakland police OK'ed using tear gas

December 12, 2011 6:50:28 PM PST
Oakland police approved using tear gas on protesters in the tense days leading to a violent clash with Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in late October but did not share their classified records with the mayor, documents released Monday revealed.

Operational plans for the tear-gas fueled raid on the downtown Occupy Oakland camp on Oct. 25 showed the Oakland Police Department authorized using chemical agents if commanders on the scene said they needed it to disperse crowds.

The documents released in response to a public records act request by The Associated Press also show undercover officers were shooting video during the early morning raid.

Mayor Jean Quan was not given copies of the operations or briefing plans prior to the early morning raid, said Kristin Burgess, who supervises the department's Office of Inspector General's audit unit.

The documents do not state who gave the order to use tear gas but offer a glimpse into the meticulous plans the department laid out to confront an encampment they described as being "well organized, (having) broad support and ... openly hostile to law enforcement."

The mayor's staff did not immediately clarify Monday what Quan knew about the police strategies, nor do emails released by her office shed light on the extent of her knowledge or approval.

In recent weeks, the mayor's office has said it cannot release any records to document Quan's communications with her staff in the hours leading up to and days following the raid because the mayor did not send or receive a single email or text message about the encampment during that period.

"It was a very busy time and she was doing everything in person," said her special assistant Sue Piper.

After warning protesters they would be evicted if they did not leave the main camp, hundreds of law enforcement officers surrounded the encampment before dawn on Oct. 25 with tear gas and bean bag projectiles, and ultimately arrested more than 80 people.

Images of police actions that day served to galvanize support for the Occupy movement after news emerged that the clash left an Iraq War veteran with serious injuries.

Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan defended officers following the clash, saying they used what they believed to be the least amount of force possible to protect themselves. He also announced that the events leading up to veteran Scott Olsen's injury would be investigated as vigorously as a fatal police shooting.

The last time the department authorized the potential use of tear gas was in June, police officials said. But the tear gas was never used on protesters angered by a former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer's release from jail, where he had served time for involuntary manslaughter in a fatal shooting.

The forcible Occupy Oakland eviction, the first of its kind on a large scale, marred the national reputation of the city's mayor and police while rallying encampments nationwide beset with their own public safety and sanitation issues. The strategy also was later discussed in conference calls between mayors and police chiefs considering containment strategies.

After police cleared the camp, Quan changed course and allowed protesters to return to reclaim the plaza outside City Hall the next day. She also publicly apologized for the incident and promised an investigation into the use of force, including tear gas, by police.


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