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Injured by Excessive Use of Force at Protest?

Steve Wagner

A Time of Protest

Over the past several years, there has seemed to be an increase in both small and large protests. With rising concerns about civil rights, equality, and equal treatment under the law, various locations in the United States have housed smoldering, long-term protests and explosive protests arising out of specific, immediately-occurring events. Some protests contain elements of both.

While many protests are peaceful, there are now mounting cases of intense clashes between protesters and police. Protesters sometimes allege violations of their civil rights or excessive use of force. In the worst cases, there may be allegations of serious police brutality.

The explosion in these types of cases will, over time, provide the public with some idea of how similar lawsuits may be resolved. Unfortunately, those injured while engaged in civil disobedience often are not viewed sympathetically; however, there are instances where excessive police force causing serious injuries, such as traumatic brain injury, during protests has resulted in settlements worth millions of dollars.

Very recently, in July 2015, the New York Police Department reached a settlement with six Occupy Wall Street protesters who were bringing a lawsuit for police brutality. In that case, Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna was accused of pepper-spraying a small group of protesters of peaceful protesters without any provocation. The NYPD policy on pepper spray states that officers can use it for protection, but not against individuals who are not actively resisting. The Department said Detective Bologna acted out of concern for public safety, but after the accusers came forward, the NYPD determined it was in the best interests of the department to settle the case, resulting in an award of $333,000.

In 2013, the city of Oakland agreed to pay nearly $700,000 to a protester who was injured in November 2011 by a police beating that left him with a lacerated spleen, which required surgery.

In a very serious and disturbing case, 24 year-old former Marine and Iraq War veteran had been on the scene for an October 2011 Occupy Oakland protest for only a few minutes when officers began to shoot lead-filled bean bags into the crowd using 12-gauge shotguns. One hit Scott in the head, shattering his skull and destroying part of his brain. As other protesters attempted to help him, officers shot additional munitions at them, causing them to scatter. One of these shots landed so close to Scott Olsen, lying helpless on the ground, that his shoulder was badly burned. Despite his presence on the ground once the crowd had dispersed, no police officer attempted to get him medical assistance. The city of Oakland agreed to a $4.5 million settlement.

Did you experience excessive police force or police brutality while engaged in a protest? Were you injured as a result? The attorneys at Wagner Reese can discuss possibly claims against a city, police department, college, or other entity. Call our Indianapolis-based lawyers now for a FREE consultation: (888) 204-8440.


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