LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4) - Nearly two years after allegedly breaking the arm of an elderly woman living with dementia during a controversial arrest, former Loveland Police Officer Austin Hopp on Wednesday accepted a plea agreement to lessen a jail sentence.
Karen Garner suffered from a broken arm, sprained wrist and separated shoulder during her June 2020 arrest by Hopp, and Garner's family expressed dismay over Wednesday's court action.
In Larimer County Court Wednesday morning, Hopp pleaded guilty to an assault charge that's punishable by 2 to 8 years in prison. That avoids the minimum 10 to 30 or more years in prison he would have faced had there been a trial and a conviction.
Hopp first encountered Garner after being dispatched to a report of an attempted theft at a Loveland Walmart. Garner, who lives with dementia, allegedly tried to steal less than $15 worth of goods from the Walmart. When confronted by Walmart staff she returned the items and walked out of the store.
Body camera footage from Hopp showed him approaching Garner as she walked home. Carrying a wildflower in her hand, she failed to comply to multiple orders to stop. That is when Hopp is seen grabbing Garner by the arm and forcefully taking her to the ground.
As fellow now-former officer Daria Jalali responded to the scene, Hopp allegedly separated Garner's shoulder by forcing her arm behind her back and up near her shoulder blades. An audible pop is heard on the camera, something Hopp acknowledged hearing in footage later released by Loveland police.
Garner was taken to an intake holding facility at Loveland Police Department where she complained multiple times about having injuries. She was forced to sit in a holding cell without medical attention for hours, even after Hopp, Jalali and another Loveland employee were heard on security footage acknowledging that she may have injuries.
After a brief investigation, Hopp resigned from the Loveland Police Department, as did Jalali. Both were arrested and charged with crimes related to Garner's arrest.
"I am very disappointed," said John Steward, Karen's son, on Wednesday.
"Why would the same people that came to the conclusion that these are the charges be the ones to lessen the charges 9 months later? It doesn't make sense," said Shannon Steward, Karen's daughter-in-law.
As first reported by CBS4, the Larimer County District Attorney's Office elected to move forward with a plea agreement against the will of the Garner Family, something they have the legal right to do.
Garner's family felt the video in the case proved Hopp was guilty on all counts beyond a reasonable doubt. Even Judge Michelle Brinegar addressed the court saying she believed the case was strong against Hopp. However, Brinegar said she felt the plea agreement was comparable to what others facing similar charges would be offered and agree to.
"Given the info from the DA, and looking at this and balancing with other cases that have been with the court, it appears that it is acceptable to accept the plea deal" Brinegar said.
Hopp stood, removing his mask, and pleaded guilty to felony four assault. His words were limited, primarily acknowledging the judge every time she asked him a question.
"This is a tragic case, anytime a former member of law enforcement has betrayed the public trust like this, this is a case we take extremely seriously," said Gordon McLaughlin, District Attorney in Larimer County.
McLaughlin, who campaigned in-part on furthering police accountability if elected, told CBS4's Dillon Thomas he believed the plea agreement was accountability for Hopp.
"What we achieved here today is a result I know the community would be proud of," McLaughlin said. "It is a charge that fits the crime. And, it sends the message that this won't be tolerated in this community."
Shannon Steward accused the prosecution and judge of accepting the plea of a criminal who refused to to accept the pleas of Karen Garner.
"38 times Karen said, 'I'm going home, I'm going home, I'm going home,' during the arrest. And he ignored her. Then 10 times while she was chained to the bench she said she hurt her shoulder, but was denied medical treatment," Steward said. "She had pleas that were ignored. And then we have to come here today and honor him with this plea deal, it is just a slap in the face."
"We do know our God is greater and more powerful than this. At the end of the day he will seek the justice for us, and the justice for my mom that she needs," Steward said.
Hopp is scheduled to be sentenced on May 5.
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