Prosecutors open criminal probe into police who arrested an elderly Colorado woman last year
The 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office has launched a criminal investigation into the Loveland, Colorado police officers involved in the arrest of an elderly disabled woman last summer that left her with multiple injuries.
"Upon seeing videos of the arrest of Karen Garner, I requested an independent investigation by our Critical Incident Response Team," 8th Judicial District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin said in a tweet Monday night. "That protocol is now in place. An unbiased, thorough, & transparent criminal investigation will be conducted."
CIRT investigations are typically launched to investigate police shootings, but this multi-agency team can also be used to investigate other incidents where a member of the public is injured or killed in an incident involving law enforcement, like an allegation of excessive force or in-custody death at the Larimer County Jail.
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed last week alleges Loveland police officers Austin Hopp and Daria Jalali and Sgt. Philip Metzler used excessive force when they arrested Garner in June 2020 on suspicion of stealing $13.88 worth of merchandise from Walmart.
During the arrest, officers dislocated Garner’s shoulder, fractured her arm and sprained her wrist, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney Sarah Schielke.
Garner suffers from dementia and sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to verbally communicate and understand others, Schielke said in a news release this week.
The arresting officer in the case — Hopp — has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, Loveland police said in a statement Thursday. Jalali and Metzler have also been reassigned to administrative duties.
Loveland police said in a statement Thursday that they launched an internal investigation after becoming aware of the excessive force allegations in the lawsuit Wednesday night. A Loveland Police Department news release said the agency was not aware of any complaints about Garner's arrest until the lawsuit was filed.
The district attorney's office dismissed all charges against Garner in August 2020, under previous 8th Judicial District Attorney Cliff Riedel, according to a previous statement from the district attorney's office. Riedel was term limited in the last election, and McLaughlin took office in January.
Garner's children said in a statement Monday night that the district attorney's investigation is "a small but long overdue step in the right direction."
In the family's statement sent to media through Schielke, the children said they didn't previously file a complaint with the police department because "we just could not trust that it would be properly addressed" based on Metzler's response to a bystander's complaint at the scene that was caught on Hopp's body camera. They also said Riedel watched the footage before dismissing the charges against Garner but never called for an independent investigation.
"Clearly, the newly elected DA understands what we suspected last summer — that only an independent, outside investigation, with all the world’s attention, will reveal the truth," the statement read.
A CIRT investigation aims to determine if person committed a crime during an incident, while an internal investigation looks only at whether an officer violated a department policy during an incident.
Fort Collins Police Services will lead the CIRT investigation, according to the district attorney's office news release Monday night. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and United States Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado will also investigate the incident.
"Public trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system is vital to the safety and fairness which we all endeavor to ensure in our communities," the district attorney's office said in a news release. "The robust, unbiased, and transparent procedures used in the 8th Judicial District CIRT protocol will not only ensure there is accountability for any potential criminal behavior but will also give our community the information and framework with which to evaluate our performance and have faith in the results of our investigations."
On June 26, 2020, Garner was suspected of attempting to leave Walmart without paying for $13.88 worth of items, according to the lawsuit. After being stopped and asked to return the items, Garner's attorney said she attempted to pay for the items but the employees wouldn't let her and asked her to leave.
Store employees called Loveland police, and Hopp responded.
In body camera footage shared by Garner's attorney, Hopp attempts to stop Garner while she is walking in the grass along the side of the road. Garner pauses to look at him and appears to shrug, indicating “she did not understand him,” according to the lawsuit, and then continues walking. About 9 seconds after Hopp reaches Garner, he grabs her arms and twists them behind her back to take her to the ground.
Jalali arrives on scene, and both officers continue to ask Garner questions, but the only thing she can be heard repeatedly saying in the body camera footage is “I’m going home.”
Metzler later arrives on scene and speaks to a witness. The lawsuit alleges Metzler intimidated and bullied the witness and deactivated his body-worn camera during the interaction to cover up the use of excessive force.
According to the lawsuit, Garner was denied medical care for nearly six hours after she was arrested because officers told deputies at the jail Garner was not injured. When deputies discovered Garner was injured, they took her to the hospital.