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Ex-officers face criminal charges in arrest of woman with dementia

Karen Garner was wrestled to the ground within 30 seconds of a police officer exiting his patrol car in June 2020. (Image Provided/Loveland Police/Life & Liberty Law Office)

DENVER (AP) — A police officer who pushed a 73-year-old Colorado woman with dementia to the ground and pinned her against the hood of his patrol car is facing criminal charges of using excessive force, while a second officer is accused of failing to stop or report his actions, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Austin Hopp is facing charges of second-degree assault, attempting to influence a public servant and official misconduct in last year’s arrest of Karen Garner in Loveland, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver. Daria Jalali, who arrived after Garner was handcuffed, is facing charges of failing to report use of force, failing to intervene and official misconduct.

A person who answered the phone at the law firm representing Hopp said the office would not comment on the case. Court records did not list a lawyer for Jalali, and a telephone number listed for her did not work.

They were among three officers who resigned last month after a federal lawsuit filed by the woman’s family and police video released by their lawyer triggered anger in the community and two independent investigations. The June 2020 arrest was captured on Hopp’s body-worn camera, and the three officers also were shown talking about the arrest, laughing and joking at times in police station surveillance video.

The outcry over how Garner was treated comes amid a national reckoning over use of force by police, including against people with mental and physical health conditions.

“I fully support these charges,” Loveland Police Chief Robert Ticer said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that the officers’ actions and attitudes are contrary to the department’s goals.

Ticer said he has requested a third-party internal affairs investigation that will be overseen by the city’s human resources department. He also said the majority of his officers completed Alzheimer’s disease awareness training after the video surfaced and that they will get more de-escalation training in June.

“Obviously, when we have an incident where former police officers are charged with a crime, we’re going to have broken trust,” Ticer said. “We recognize that. We understand that. … Our department wants to restore that trust.”

District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin said he only brought charges he felt he could persuade a jury to convict on.

“While peace officers are permitted to use reasonable force to effect an arrest, the investigation in this case showed that Austin Hopp used excessive force,” he said.

Hopp arrested Garner after she left a store without paying for about $14 worth of items. His body camera footage shows him catching up to her as she walked through a field. She shrugged and turned away from him, seeming not to understand him, and he quickly grabbed her arm and pushed the 80-pound (36-kilogram) woman to the ground.

The lawsuit claims Hopp dislocated Garner’s shoulder by shoving her handcuffed left arm forward onto the hood of his patrol car and that she was denied medical treatment for about six hours.

When Hopp has Garner pushed against the hood of his car, she tried to turn around and repeated that she was trying to go home. He then pushed her back against the car and moved her bent left arm up near her head, holding it, saying, “Are you finished? Are you finished? We don’t play this game.”

About 30 seconds later, Garner began to slump toward the ground. Jalali said, “Stand up! We’re not going to hold you.”

McLaughlin, who became the district attorney in January, said he did not know about the arrest or the body camera video until the lawsuit was filed in April. He then asked for an investigation led by police in nearby Fort Collins.

He said a member of the district attorney’s office did watch the video last year as part of its decision to dismiss criminal charges in the shoplifting case. McLaughlin said he has made it clear to his employees that he will not tolerate anyone “looking the other way” on evidence like that.

Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert contributed to this report.