LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4) – The arrest of a 73-year-old Loveland woman who lives with dementia has raised concerns among many in the Northern Colorado region after body camera video of the arrest went viral online. Attorneys representing Karen Garner, who suffers from dementia and sensory aphasia, say the fragile woman experienced a broken arm, dislocated shoulder and sprained wrist following an altercation with Loveland Police Officer Austin Hopp in June 2020.
"(Hopp) drove behind her for a little bit, about 20 seconds with his lights on, expecting a certain response," said Sarah Schielke, Civil Rights Attorney for The Life & Liberty Law Office in Loveland.
Schielke filed a 52-page lawsuit Wednesday accusing Officer Hopp, Officer Daria Jalali, Sgt. Philip Metzler and the City of Loveland of excessive force and violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The incident took place on June 26, 2020 near a Walmart. Schielke said her client was accused of stealing $13.88 worth of merchandise from the store. Staff members were able to stop her before she left with the items. Schielke claims her client was confused and had slipped away from the supervision of her family at the time.
Schielke said Garner left the store, but was traced by Officer Hopp. In the body camera footage, Hopp is heard nicely asking Garner to stop. However, Garner continued to walk. It wasn't until Hopp came near to her that she eventually stopped, and refused to speak with him. That is when Hopp is seen grabbing Garner to detain her.
"Officer Hopp grabbed her and threw her to the ground," Schielke said. "Officer Hopp pushed her arm up, chucked her into the dirt, searched her and hogtied her."
During the arrest Officer Jalali, a female officer, assisted.
In the video, which some may find difficult to watch, Garner repetitively says "I am going home." For a significant portion of the body camera video, those are the only words she is heard saying. Schielke sourced that to her client's inability to have insight and express herself properly.
Throughout the encounter, Hopp is heard maintaining a calm tone, though breathing heavily at times.
Garner is only 80 pounds. Hopp is heard making a comment about how easy it was to detain her with force due to her weight and height.
Schielke drew attention to the time Hopp lifted her client's arm. Garner was already handcuffed, and was allegedly trying to slip out of the restraints. That is when Hopp is seen lifting up and pressing down on Garner's arm, which at one point appears to be pressed flat across her upper back. Schielke suggested that her client's arm was broken and shoulder separated at that point.
"Seeing it on such a defenseless and frail person. It was so reckless of human life," Schielke said. "Dementia and aphasia impacted her ability to communicate and her ability to have insight."
"Community members are concerned about this. We are concerned about this too. That is why we are taking swift actions, we placed those officers on leave status," said Loveland Police Chief Robert Ticer. "I have to look at that as something very serious."
Ticer told CBS4's Dillon Thomas he wasn't aware of the injuries Garner experienced until they were highlighted in the lawsuit.
"We will have an independent investigation. We will have the lawsuit to work through. And, to be frank with you, we were not aware of the serious bodily injury. That was first brought to our attention yesterday," Ticer said.
Ticer said he could not make a quick judgment by simply viewing the body camera footage to say whether or not his officers acted according to department policy. He said it would only be fair to all parties involved if an independent investigation determined that first.
When asked if his department trains for interactions with people who live with disabilities, Ticer said they spend countless hours with each officer prioritizing proper responses. He said officers are even trained on how to interact with people who live with autism as well.
"We train regularly and often in identification of people in crisis," Ticer said.
The video, which has been viewed by thousands from around the world, has caused many to have distaste for the Loveland Police Department.
Ticer said his dispatch center has been inundated with calls from people around the world complaining about Officer Hopp's handling of the situation. He said that was causing the system to be backlogged, preventing the agency from providing assistance to those currently experiencing emergencies.
He asked that anyone with concerns reach out to the department online rather than calling dispatch.
Officers Jalali and Hopp have been taken off patrol duties as a result of the lawsuit. Ticer said Jalali was moved to office duty while Hopp was placed on paid administrative leave from the force.
Schielke said she was disheartened to learn the two officers involved were on patrol for the past 10 months, and were only taken off once the lawsuit was filed. She said her client still doesn't understand what went wrong that day in 2020, and still suffers from the injuries she sustained.
While Ticer said he shares in the community's concerns, he couldn't comment further on how long the investigation process into his own officers would take.
When asked what Schielke and her client are seeking, monetarily, from the City of Loveland, she said she would leave that to a jury to decide. However, she said Garner's family wouldn't be content until a significant payout was made.
"There needs to be an equally significant compensatory response by them if we are ever going to start repairing things," Schielke said.
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