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The Hunt for Rubber Bullets at Occupy Oakland

Questions raised about what ammunition police fired into crowd

After Tuesday night’s violent confrontation with police left one man in critical condition and several Occupy Oakland demonstrators with welts and bruises, questions swirled on Wednesday about what kind of ammunition police had fired into the crowd.

The East Bay Express tweeted a picture of what it said appeared to be rubber bullets that a reporter had found at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza Wednesday morning, but no law enforcement agency involved in the actions has said that it used rubber projectiles.

At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, interim police Chief Howard Jordan reiterated statements he made Tuesday night that police had used tear gas and bean-bag bullets to disperse protesters, but did not fire rubber bullets. He said the Oakland Police Department was investigating what munitions were used by the other law enforcement agencies that assisted OPD in its dispersal of Occupy Oakland protesters.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department told The Bay Citizen Wednesday that its officers used foam-like bullets, paint guns and tear gas Tuesday night. Officers use paint guns to mark unruly protesters for later identification and arrest, a spokesman said.

Four other law enforcement agencies that helped respond to Tuesday’s protest — the Berkeley Police Department, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Clara County Office of the Sheriff and the California Highway Patrol — told The Bay Citizen their officers had not used any nonlethal projectiles. A spokesman from the San Jose Police Department said that his agency does not use rubber bullets, but that he did not know what other tools officers may have used. The Palo Alto Police Department, which assisted Oakland, diverted questions about its involvement to the OPD.

Officer Elon Steers, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol's Golden Gate Division, which includes the Bay Area, called rubber projectiles "a routine, non-life-threatening tool" for dispersing crowds, but said that typically only specially trained officers, such as Special Weapons And Tactics team members, carry such munitions.

Oakland requested 500 officers from at least 17 agencies to help with its response to the Occupy Oakland movement, beginning with the early-morning eviction on Tuesday of the group’s two-week-old encampment at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. Of the agencies that helped with the eviction, at least five, including the Solano County Sheriff’s Office and the University of California Police Department, did not go on to participate in the response to the protest later that night.

At the press conference Wednesday, Jordan said the department had opened a "level one investigation" into the injury of Scott Olsen, and Iraq war veteran, who was critically wounded during a confrontation with police Tuesday night. In a YouTube video, which shows Olsen bleeding from the head, people carrying Olsen tell the cameraman that he was shot. Jordan said the investigation would involve OPD's internal affairs, major crimes and homicide departments; the Alameda County District Attorney's office; and the federal monitor that oversees the Oakland police department.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened. I wish it didn’t happen,” Jordan said of Olsen’s injury.

Jordan asked the public to come forward with any information or videos about other injuries during the protest. At a second press conference Wednesday night, the chief said six or seven people had been injured Tuesday night.

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