Oakland, CA- Oakland Police Officer Robert Roche, an officer who lost his job for firing a teargas canister at protesters who rushed to the side of a wounded veteran, has now had his job reinstated.
Roche’s termination was overturned by arbitrator David Stiteler last Wednesday. Roche has not simply been reinstated; Stiteler also ordered Roche be awarded back pay and benefits.
On October 25th, 2011, Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was among approximately 1,000 other protesters demonstrating in Oakland. Olsen was standing close to a police line when he was struck in the head by an officer who fired a bean bag round at him. Olsen fell to the ground, critically injured.
Other protesters quickly surrounded him, and another shot- a canister of teargas- was hurled onto the group trying to help Olsen. The video above shows Olsen on the ground about 30 seconds into the clip and also shows the teargas thrown shortly after protesters came to Olsen’s side.
It was found by Oakland Police that Roche, the officer responsible for using the teargas canister on the group, had exerted “unreasonable force” in the incident and violated his department’s policy regarding the use of teargas.
Olsen suffered from a fractured skull and brain damage as a result of the projectile round fired at him. The identity of the officer who fired the bean bag was not found. Earlier this year, Olsen was awarded $4.5 million by the city in a settlement.
Stiteler argued that Roche’s actions were justified because he was following the orders of a superior. Roche said he had been told by Paul Figueroa, Oakland’s police Captain at the time, to “disperse protesters from the intersection.”
Sergeant Barry Donelan, president of Oakland’s police union, said “Roche is a phenomenal police officer, and he was scapegoated like all the other officers from the Occupy experience.”
Rachel Lederman, Olsen’s attorney, clearly disagreed with the decision. “It really gives you pause that he [Roche] would be reinstated when you have such a blatant case of police misconduct that is caught on video and publicized all over the world. It points out that there is still an endemic problem in OPD when it comes to trying to impose any kind of discipline even in a case like this where the evidence is so clear.”
Lederman disagreed with Roche’s argument of following orders, saying that “Nobody ordered Roche to throw the explosive grenade at Scott Olsen when Scott Olsen was injured on the ground.”
Roche’s attorney, Justin Buffington, said that Roche was the only officer disciplined in the Occupy incident of October 25th, 2011, and said that Roche was “clearly the soap that the OPD command staff used to wash themselves clean of their sins.”
It has not yet been determined when Roche will return for police duty.