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Police, Ambulances Stood Idle While Olsen Lay Wounded

County official warns Oakland still lacks emergency response plan to treat injured

One week after police and medical personnel stood by as Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen lay in the street with a fractured skull, Oakland still lacks a coordinated plan to treat injuries if they occur during Wednesday's general strike, according to a senior Alameda County official in charge of medical preparedness.

Jim Morrissey, the county's terrorism and disaster preparedness coordinator, said Tuesday he was still trying to contact Oakland police officials to help them work with emergency medical personnel. Morrissey said the coordination is particularly urgent because Alameda County switched to a new ambulance provider this week.

“The Oakland Police Department is a great law enforcement agency. But I haven’t seen any plan, and I am the medical health operational coordinator,” said Morrissey, who lectures nationally on the subject of collaboration between police and emergency-services agencies. “I need to see what they’re going to do so we can offer services to them."

Olsen, 24, was participating in protests on Oct. 25 when he was struck in the head by a projectile. Riot police stood within 20 yards of where he lay and ambulance crews waited on standby two blocks away. Yet Olsen received medical treatment only after protesters dragged him more than two blocks, put him into a car and drove him to Highland Hospital.

“I turned around and was yelling directly at the police: ‘I need help. This guy is hurt,’” said Claire Chadwick, a Berkeley canvasser who was the first to assist the motionless Olsen. “But none of them moved.”

Olsen's injury — and the refusal of police and emergency personnel to intervene — has been cited as part of the inspiration for Wednesday's general strike, which is expected to draw thousands of protesters to downtown Oakland. Protesters say they intend to march to the Port of Oakland in an effort to shut it down. The entire Oakland police department has been placed on call.

It remains unclear how police and emergency personnel will respond if violence breaks out. 

On the night Olsen was hurt, emergency medical responders were kept away from areas where police were throwing tear gas at protesters, interim Oakland fire Chief Mark Hoffman explained.

“I don’t expect my people to move into a riot,” Hoffman said in an interview. “I expect citizens to move people to the side and call for help.”

But with planning, training and coordination, it is possible for police and medics to rush into riot zones and take victims to safety, according to Morrissey and other public safety experts. 

In 2010, when violent protests followed the verdict in the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the BART police officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant, Morrissey said he had already been involved in meetings, conference calls, memo exchanges and other communications to make sure police and medical personnel were prepared to work together to rescue the injured.

Thanks to that planning, Morrissey said, “the medical folks were with the line officers, right behind them, to offer care to anybody who needed it.”


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