LOVELAND, Colo — Criminal charges have been filed against two former Colorado police officers who “fist-bumped” one another following the violent arrest of an elderly woman with dementia, who suffered a dislocated and fractured shoulder in the incident last summer.
Austin Hopp, 26, is charged with second-degree assault of an at-risk adult and attempt to influence a public servant, both felonies, according to Loveland police officials. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct.
Daria Jalali, 27, faces misdemeanor charges of official misconduct, failure to report excessive use of force and failure to intervene in the use of excessive force.
Tyler Blackett, a former civilian community services officer for the department, has not been charged. Blackett, Hopp and Jalali all resigned April 30 in the wake of a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of victim Karen Garner.
Garner, 73, was arrested June 26 after Walmart employees called the Loveland Police Department to report her as a shoplifting suspect. Garner, who stands 5 feet tall and weighs about 80 pounds, has dementia with aphasia, or the inability to understand or express speech, according to authorities and her attorney.
All charges against Garner were dismissed by prosecutors, who wrote in a motion that she “appears to be incapable of understanding her surroundings or her actions,” according to The Associated Press.
Garner’s arrest, as well as the officers’ actions after getting Garner to the police station for booking, was captured by body-worn camera and surveillance footage. A bystander was also recorded questioning the officers’ aggression during the arrest, telling Hopp he’d seen him throw “that little kid” on the ground.
“I was immediately concerned with what I saw,” Larimer County District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin said Wednesday when announcing the criminal charges. “Austin Hopp used excessive force in the arrest of Ms. Garner. Daria Jalali, having witnessed that excessive force, failed to live up to her duties under the law.”
Loveland police Chief Robert Ticer on Wednesday backed the charges against his former officers.
“I fully support these charges. I’ll say it again: I fully support these charges,” Ticer said. “We accept and understand the district attorney’s decision to pursue criminal charges against these individuals, and we will continue to cooperate with this investigation.
“Their actions and attitudes are in direct contrast to the culture we strive for here at the Loveland Police Department.”
Sarah Schielke, the attorney representing Garner and her family, seemed to disagree.
“Multiple individuals at this police department watched what Hopp and Jalali did, and all of those individuals did nothing about it,” Schielke said, according to CBS Denver.
Watch Wednesday’s announcement below.
Hopp had been with the department for about one year prior to his resignation, Ticer said. Jalali had been an officer for three years and Blackett, a civilian employee for two years.
The former officers’ supervisor, Sgt. Phil Metzler, is on administrative leave pending the findings of an investigation conducted by an outside police agency. Metzler was present for the end of Garner’s arrest and was at the station as she was being booked, according to records.
No charges have been filed against the sergeant.
Garner’s heartbroken family said Wednesday that the charges filed this week are not adequate for what she was put through last summer, or for the fear she still holds inside.
“You can see in the video how they’re laughing at my mom, and they’re making fun of her. And it feels like they’re hiding behind this department,” Garner’s daughter, Allisa Swartz, said in a tearful statement.
The elderly woman’s daughter-in-law, Shannon Steward, said Garner, who now lives in a care facility, has not been the same since her arrest.
“She is just so overwhelmed,” Steward said. “We’ve talked to her caretakers about her PTSD from all this, and this has truly changed the progression of how her dementia was going.”
“She’s just really scared and traumatized,” Swartz said. “I just want justice for my mom.”
‘I don’t think you want to play it this way’
Garner’s case began with a trip to Walmart, where she failed to pay for $13.88 worth of goods.
Store employees confiscated the items: a Pepsi, a candy bar, a T-shirt and a package of Shout wipe refills. The federal lawsuit filed on her behalf alleges that after she was stopped at the door, Garner tried to pay for the items but was not allowed to.
Garner left the store and an employee called police, describing her to a dispatcher as “elderly, small and petite,” the lawsuit states. The worker emphasized that the store had not suffered a loss because they’d retrieved the items from her before she wandered away.
Hopp, the responding officer, never talked to anyone at Walmart before finding Garner a quarter-mile away, where she was picking wildflowers in a field as she walked home, according to the filing.
Garner appears confused in the bodycam footage, in which Hopp is heard asking Garner to stop walking as he pulls up behind her on Mountain Lion Road. Garner’s lawsuit states she did not immediately notice him, despite the flashing lights of his patrol car.
As he exits the car, Hopp asks her to stop but she does not appear to hear him. The federal suit estimates that Garner is about 20 yards away when the officer first speaks.
“I don’t think you want to play it this way,” he says in the bodycam footage, again from a long distance behind her. “Ma’am, police stop.”
After Garner finally notices him, Hopp questions why she didn’t stop for his flashing lights or siren. Garner shrugs and mumbles incoherently as he mentions the fact she’d just left the nearby Walmart.
“Do you need to be arrested right now?” Hopp asks as she begins to walk away.
Hopp grabs her arms and, placing them behind her back, takes her down to the ground to handcuff her.
At that point in the footage, it is less than a minute since Garner first realized the officer was trying to talk to her.
“I’m going home! I’m going home!” Garner cries.
As she attempts to crawl away, he shoves her back into the grass and dirt. She again states that she is going home.
It was a refrain she repeated more than three dozen times during her arrest. It was also one of three phrases Garner, who was unable to give the officers her own date of birth, said during her encounter with police at the scene.
The only other words she uttered during the incident were, “You hurt me,” and, “I want my credit card,” her lawsuit states. The credit card was tucked inside a small wallet that remained clutched in Garner’s hand throughout the altercation with Hopp and Jalali.
The wildflowers she was picking are still in her hand as Garner is cuffed.
Watch the bodycam footage of Karen Garner’s arrest below. Editor’s note: The video contains graphic images.
Hopp then moves her to his patrol car and, when she again says she is going home, he lifts her left elbow higher, toward her head, and pushes her down on the hood.
“Next, without warning or justification, Officer Hopp took Ms. Garner’s entire bent and restrained left arm with both hands and he shoved it violently forward onto the hood of his car,” according to the lawsuit. “You can see and hear on his video how this fractured and dislocated Ms. Garner’s shoulder.”
Garner’s arm appears to go beyond the normal limit of mobility as he pushes it further toward her head.
“Are you finished? Are you finished?” Hopp asks. “We don’t play this game. Do you understand me?”
Garner moves slightly.
“Oh, if you try to kick me, this is going to be bad,” Hopp says with a chuckle.
Around this time, Jalali arrives and aids in the arrest. She helps Hopp bring Garner to the ground a second time to adjust the handcuffs and search her pockets, then they lift her to her feet and walk her to one of the police vehicles.
As they try to force her into the SUV, she becomes more agitated and fights being placed inside. Off-camera, a passerby is heard questioning the officers’ actions.
“Do you have to use that much aggression?” the man asks.
“What are you doing? Get out of here,” Hopp responds. “This is not your business.”
The bystander demands to know who Hopp’s sergeant is and, as they speak face-to-face, states he will file a complaint against the officer. The man says he was watching Hopp from the start of the interaction with Garner and questions why he’d been so rough with her.
Hopp tells the man Garner had stolen from Walmart and fought him when he tried to detain her.
“This is what happens when you fight the police,” Hopp says.
Hopp also told the man Garner had tried running from him, an allegation that is not supported by the footage. The man, who had recorded the arrest thus far, called him on that statement.
Hopp ended the conversation and returned to the SUV, where Jalali was having trouble getting Garner into a seat belt. The officers again bring the elderly woman down to the ground.
The complete dislocation of her left shoulder is apparent in the footage.
Jalali holds Garner in place while Hopp hogties her to make her unable to struggle as they transport her to the police department. By that point, Garner is bleeding from the nose, forehead and wrist, the lawsuit states.
The officers drop her on the way back to the car, causing her to hit the ground face-first, causing another injury to her face, according to the document.
Metzler, who had arrived at the scene, noted the blood on the officers.
“Is that blood on you … hers?” he asked Jalali.
She said it was.
“A little bloody, a little muddy. You know how it goes,” she told him.
Despite Garner’s injuries, Metzler did not see to it that she got medical attention. The sergeant also spoke to the concerned bystander, who told him what he’d witnessed.
“(Sgt.) Metzler began gaslighting the citizen himself, telling him that what he thought he saw was not what he saw,” the lawsuit alleges.
Metzler accused the man of “inserting (himself) into the situation” and told him the use of force by the officers was justified, according to Garner’s attorney.
“Good ol’ Metzler,” one of the other officers said as they watched the confrontation.
‘Ready for the pop?’
Garner was then taken to the station, where she was denied medical treatment for hours as she told the officers — again, repeating herself dozens of times — that she was in pain, her lawsuit states. Her hands remained cuffed behind her back the entire time.
As Garner sat, confused and crying, in a holding cell a few feet from the officers, they discussed the arrest, at one point appearing to laugh and bump one another’s fist in approval. The discussion made it clear that Hopp felt and heard the “pop” when Garner’s shoulder was injured.
“Did you hear the pop? When I had her pushed against the car when you first got there?” he asks Jalali.
“That’s going to turn into something,” Jalali tells him.
The officers point out the number of drivers who had stopped or slowed down to see what was happening during the arrest.
A few minutes later, as he continues writing his report, Hopp speaks up again.
“I can’t believe I threw a 73-year-old on the ground,” he says.
Watch the footage from the police station below.
The conversation continues on and off for several more minutes. After a while, Blackett returns to the desk and they start talking about transferring Garner to the jail.
Blackett asks Hopp if he can use his “hobble,” the strap used to hogtie a suspect’s legs, because he doesn’t have one. Hopp tells him Garner’s arrest was his first time using the implement.
“I was very proud,” Hopp jokes.
Blackett asks him what happened after he detained Garner on the street. Hopp starts telling him about it, bragging about the struggle with the elderly woman.
“I was, like, ‘Alright, let’s wrestle girl! Let’s wreck it!’” Hopp says.
It is during the retelling of the arrest that the three officers watch playback of Hopp’s bodycam footage. At one point, one of the officers compares the footage to “Live TV,” a law enforcement program on A&E.
Hopp appears to tell the others that body camera footage is his favorite thing to watch. All three officers appear engrossed in the video of Garner.
“Ready for the pop?” Hopp says, referring to the sound Garner’s shoulder made when it broke and separated from the joint. “Hear the pop?”
Jalali covered her ears as she watched.
“What did you pop?” Blackett asks.
“I think it was her shoulder,” Hopp responds, demonstrating by putting his arm back at an awkward angle.
Read the federal lawsuit filed on Karen Garner’s behalf below.
Jalali covers her eyes with the bill of her cap as they continue to watch.
“I hate this,” she said, according to the footage. “I hate it.”
“I love it,” Hopp replied.
As he and Blackett watch the remainder of the footage, Jalali goes into the holding cell to check on Garner.
“She good?” one of the others asks when she returns.
“She’s complaining that they’re really hurting her,” Jalali says.
The footage from the station appears to show that the officers not only knew Garner had been injured during her arrest but that they were also aware of possible cognitive impairments. At one point, Blackett asked Hopp if he knew whether Garner was impaired on alcohol or drugs.
“(On) drugs or just losing it,” the officer responded.
Blackett, who helped transport Garner to jail following her booking, wrote in his own report that Garner seemed “confused and unaware of what was happening.”
The lawsuit alleges that the officers took photos of Garner’s more superficial wounds but covered up the more serious ones. In one photo, the hood of her jacket is draped over her left shoulder, appearing to mask the dislocation of the joint.
They also took a photo of her wrist but failed to raise the long sleeve she was wearing. Under the sleeve, her wrist was bruised and her upper arm and shoulder was bruised and swollen.
Photos taken later at the hospital are included in the court filings.
The lawsuit accuses the officers of doctoring the paperwork they provided to jail staff to include no record of injuries to Garner’s body.
“Defendant Officer Blackett, along with Hopp, after two-and-a-half hours, put Ms. Garner in his vehicle to transport her to the jail,” the lawsuit states. “They hogtied her again first. Then they also lifted her by her dislocated and fractured arm, causing her extremely acute pain. Then they left her at the jail, booked as an ‘uncooperative’ prisoner.”
Eventually, a deputy at the jail realized Garner was seriously injured and had her taken to a hospital for treatment, the suit says. She was released to Poudre Valley Hospital’s emergency room at 10:38 p.m., six hours after she was hurt.
Garner suffered a fractured humerus, a dislocated shoulder and a sprained wrist. Despite officers’ inability to find Garner’s family, the hospital staff was able to find contact information for Swartz within 20 minutes, according to her attorney.
Ticer said Wednesday that the department has already taken “a number of actions” to serve and protect the community in the wake of the scandal.
“First, a majority of our police officers have now undergone Alzheimer’s awareness training. This began within a week of my learning about how Ms. Garner was treated,” the chief said. “Second, starting next month, we will begin instituting additional de-escalation training. When officers get the opportunity to rely on time and distance to slow down encounters with the public, and can do it safely so that everyone benefits, we want to take advantage of those opportunities.”
An assistant city attorney also now works from within police headquarters to help the administration review all use of force cases dating back to 2019, as well as all such cases moving forward, Ticer said.
“This extra layer of scrutiny is important not only to the Department, but to all of city government to ensure our existing policies are being followed,” he said.
Cox Media Group