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Can Occupy Oakland Vet Sue Police for Injuries?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on October 31, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Can the Occupy Oakland veteran-turned-protestor Scott Olsen sue the police? The 24-year-old veteran suffered serious injuries after getting hit in the head by a projectile during a protest last Tuesday night.

His skull was fractured and doctors are optimistic that he will recover. But he has been experiencing increased brain pressure on the lobe that controls a person's ability to speak. Last Friday, he wasn't able to speak, but he could understand words said to him and could write.

Olsen's injuries reinvigorated the protesters in the California city. They also sparked questions about whether or not police used the proper amount of force when dispersing the crowd. 

Olsen could sue the police for causing his injuries. How would he go about it?

Olsen would clearly have to overcome some legal hurdles. Police officers and other law enforcement agencies are typically given discretion to carry out their duties. This is so that they can properly conduct police work.

But there are times when police can overstep boundaries and infringe upon a citizen's rights. One such example is if an officer uses an excessive amount of force on a suspect.

So there could be a cause of action brewing against the Oakland Police. Just keep in mind: it can be difficult to win.

Officers can raise a defense of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects law enforcement from suits so long as their conduct does not violate a clearly established constitutional or statutory right. To overcome this immunity, plaintiffs need to demonstrate that the police exceeded their bounds, infringed upon their rights, and produced injuries.

If Scott Olsen sues, his case would depend on whether or not the police acted reasonably in firing the projectiles that eventually hit - and injured - the Occupy Oakland veteran.

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