Oakland officer reinstated with back pay after throwing grenade at unconscious man, bystanders

Oakland riot cops surround the protesters. (Source: Noah Berger, special to the Chronicle)
Oakland riot cops surround the protesters. (Source: Noah Berger, special to the Chronicle)
Oakland riot cops surround the protesters. (Source: Noah Berger, special to the Chronicle)

OAKLAND, CA — An officer who violently attacked a group of civilians — including an incapacitated man bleeding from a head injury and the people who tried to help him — has been reinstated to the department with back pay for the nearly 3 years of missed work.

Scott Olsen suffering from a fractured skull after being attacked by Oakland police.  (Source: AP/Jay Finneburgh)
Scott Olsen suffering from a fractured skull after being attacked by Oakland police. (Source: AP/Jay Finneburgh)

The incident dates back to October 25th, 2011. Citizens were protesting the perceived injustices in their government in what was called an Occupy Oakland rally, which involved day-and-night occupation of the public square. Oakland police initiated an unprovoked attack on peaceful bystanders when an unidentified OPD officer launched a metal tear gas canister directly into a man’s head, causing him to collapse into a pool of blood, and resulting in brain damage.

The incident didn’t end there. The man who had been injured was Iraq veteran Scott Olson; who received swift attention from non-uniformed bystanders. When people had gathered to aid Mr. Olson, another cop, OPD Officer Robert Roche, attacked the crowd by throwing a flashbang grenade only inches from Mr. Olson’s bleeding head. A violent explosion followed, injuring and scattering the first responders. The incident was previously detailed by Police State USA.

READ MORE: Oakland police attack innocent protesters, give man brain damage

Officer Robert Roche was shielded from identification for months following the incident, but was later named as a defendant in Mr. Olson’s lawsuit. Roche is a “Tango Team” (SWAT) operator who had already amassed 3 confirmed kills during his time serving Oakland. His homicides in 2006, 2007, and 2008 had all been deemed “justified” by OPD, although one of them resulted in a $500,000 settlement, according to the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center. The Scott Olson incident resulted in a $4,500,000 settlement.

Oakland Police Officer Robert Roche
Oakland Police Officer Robert Roche

Officer Roche was placed on paid administrative leave in October 2011. He continued to receive subsidized paychecks until August 2013, when he was officially terminated. By that time he had enjoyed roughly 22 months of paid vacation and zero legal consequences.

Even this nauseatingly shallow level of accountability would prove too much for corrupt police officials to tolerate. Police union officials worked feverishly to reinstate Officer Roche.

In August 2014, it was announced that Officer Robert Roche was rehired and returned to work for OPD. In fact, he will be compensated for the time he missed, even the time during his termination.

Evidently the police union had successfully argued that Officer Roche was terminated unfairly, and was being used as a “scapegoat” for a larger situation that was not his fault. Union officials argued that Roche was just following orders, and should not be punished for attacking innocent civilians.

“Roche is a phenomenal police officer, and he was scapegoated like all the other officers from the Occupy experience,” said police union boss Sgt. Barry Donelan, according to Mercury News.

SF Bay Area IMC provided some additional insight to the situation:

The arbitrator’s decision is not unexpected. In twelve out of the last fifteen personnel arbitrations in which OPD officers challenged their terminations, the officers were successful in getting their jobs back. And the lack of accountability at OPD goes beyond rank and file officers. The arbitrator’s decision was apparently based in part on the fact that Roche had been ordered to deploy gas by then-Captain Paul Figueroa. At the same time, Figueroa authorized the use of “beanbag” impact munitions, on persons who might attempt to throw the teargas devices back at the police. It was inevitable that Scott Olsen and others would be seriously injured or killed, yet Figueroa was not disciplined and has since been promoted to Assistant Chief.

The logical disconnect exhibited here is hard to comprehend. Supposedly, Officer Roche was not at fault because of the orders of his superiors. Yet the superior officer who issued the orders received a big promotion. It seems the union is content with protecting criminals and ensuring police accountability is impossible.

Officer Roche was described as being “enthusiastic” to get back on the streets with a badge and a gun. It has been nearly three years since he has been able to wield power over citizens and he was “excited to get back to work.”

“It really gives you pause that he would be reinstated when you have such a blatant case of police misconduct that is caught on video and publicized all over the world,” said Rachel Lederman, Mr. Olson’s attorney. “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.”

If the members of the officer-friendly news website PoliceOne.com are any indication, cops around the country seem to be overwhelmingly supportive of the decision to reinstate Officer Roche.

“Outstanding!” chanted several members. “Keep up the good work officer!!!” posted another. “Great news! Welcome back brother,” another said.

But not everyone was so enthusiastic.

“Officer Roche insisted that he was ‘justified because he was following a superior officer’s orders'” wrote pundit William N. Grigg. “The ‘Nuremberg Defense’ prevails. And PoliceOne erupts in cheers.”

To date, Officer Roche has cost taxpayers of Oakland well over $5 million in civil settlements and legal costs — not to mention his salary. The situation provides us with yet another example of the breathtaking difficulty communities face in ridding themselves of violent, homicidal police officers.

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Demand that Officer Robert Roche and the other violent, yet-anonymous officers who attacked Oakland protesters be removed from the police force and face criminal assault charges.

Oakland Police Department
Phone: (510) 777-3333
Email: ocop@oaklandnet.com
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