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Why Is the Oakland Police Department Hiding the Truth About Its Violent Crackdown on the Occupy Protests?

Oakland police appear to have violated their own guidelines, and now they're refusing to release documents to civil rights attorneys as required by law.

After three notably violent crackdowns on protesters in as many weeks, Oakland Police Department officials have refused a request by the ACLU of Northern California to release police reports documenting their use of force as required by law.

“We saw events that we found extremely troubling, and which violated provisions of Oakland's own crowd control policy,” Linda Lye, a staff attorney with ACLU of Northern California told AlterNet.

After recent police actions in Oakland gained national attention, “there was a lot of lip service paid to transparency and accountability and the public's interest in monitoring the situation,” she said. “But then OPD proceeded to say that it was invoking one of the statutory exceptions to the Public Records Act for the vast majority of our requests.”

The exception officials cited exempted documents prepared pursuant to a criminal investigation, but, says Lye, “these records weren't notes of a detective working on a murder case. These were very different records -- they're reports documenting the use of force during a massive police enforcement action, and many are required pursuant to routine reporting procedures under Oakland's own policies.” She added, “Not only does the law require that they release the records, but the overall situation demands that they do so.”

A legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild told AlterNet that they had received “numerous reports of excessive force” after riot police evicted the encampment in front of City Hall during the early morning hours of October 25. According to Lye, one of the difficulties sorting out exactly what happened stems from the fact that, according to reports, as many as 17 police agencies were involved in the raid, which, according to the National Lawyers Guild observer, resulted in a head injury requiring hospitalization and three broken hands.

The following evening, as protesters regrouped, police dispersed crowds with round after round of teargas, flash-bang grenades and “less lethal” projectiles. Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen suffered a traumatic head injury when he was struck by some sort of projectile – reportedly a teargas canister – in the melee. As a group of people rushed to drag the unconscious Olsen to safety, police threw a flash-bang grenade into their midst (video of the incident is below).

The following week, after a rousing, peaceful day of demonstrations culminated in the Port of Oakland being “occupied,” things once again became violent on the streets of Oakland. During that action, Kayvan Sabehgi, also a veteran of the Iraq war, ended up in intensive care with a ruptured spleen. Sabehgi told the  Guardian that he was walking alone, away from the action when he ran into trouble.

"There was a group of police in front of me," he told the Guardian from his hospital bed. "They told me to move, but I was like: 'Move to where?' There was nowhere to move.

"Then they lined up in front of me. I was talking to one of them, saying 'Why are you doing this?' when one moved forward and hit me in my arm and legs and back with his baton. Then three or four cops tackled me and arrested me."

Sabehgi says he lay on the floor of a jail cell writhing in pain for hours until finally receiving medical attention the following evening.

That night, another protester videotaped what appears to be a flagrant and unnecessary use of force against him (view the video below). Scott Campbell, 30, a resident of Oakland, was also standing away from the bulk of the action, taping a line of riot police on the north end of Frank Ogawa Plaza. An officer asked him to move back and he complied. On the tape, he can be heard asking police repeatedly, “Is this OK?” He gets no answer, and then suddenly an officer raises a weapon and shoots him with a “less lethal” projectile of some kind. The tape ends with him crying out in pain.