Law Enforcement

Photos Show Elderly Man Was Unarmed When Cop Tased Him

A screen capture shared in the Nicholas Hanning arrest affidavit shows the officer pointing a taser at an obviously unarmed Michael Clark.
5th Judicial District DA's Office
A screen capture shared in the Nicholas Hanning arrest affidavit shows the officer pointing a taser at an obviously unarmed Michael Clark.
At a July 13 court hearing, Clear Creek County Court Judge Cynthia Jones ordered that body-worn camera footage of Idaho Springs Police Officer Nicholas Hanning tasing nearly naked 75-year-old Michael Clark on May 30 must be released by July 29.

The ruling was an early test of a newly signed law requiring that such video be made public no more than 21 days after a request for the recording is received. John Bryan, spokesperson for the 5th Judicial District DA's office, which is prosecuting Hanning for third-degree assault against an at-risk adult, says that compliance "will be much sooner," and is only being delayed so that some of the images can be blurred under what he describes as the law's "requirements for privacy."

In the meantime, prosecutors have released Hanning's previously sealed arrest affidavit, which includes multiple, unblurred screen captures from body cams worn by Hanning and fellow Idaho Springs Police Officer Ellie Summers during the May 30 incident. The images and the accompanying narrative make it clear that while Clark originally held a souvenir sword when answering his door, he put it down prior to being tased by Hanning.

The jolt caused Clark to fall and strike his head. Well over a month later, he remains hospitalized with multiple complications, including heart problems for which surgery has been delayed owing to a burst appendix. His attorney, Sarah Schielke, says that the various conditions are life-threatening; "given the dire health circumstances," she hopes the video is released quickly.

According to Schielke, police were called to Clark's Idaho Springs apartment on the night of May 30 after Clark was awakened by a loud noise in the adjacent unit; when he banged on the wall and told the occupants to "knock it off," he was answered by a string of obscenities. The affidavit identifies his neighbors as Timothy Brayden and Brittany Odom, who subsequently dialed 911 and made what Schielke calls false claims against Clark. Brayden is quoted as claiming to a dispatcher that "my neighbor just punched my roommate in the face," while Odom contended, "He was banging on the wall, 'Shut the fuck up!,' and I was literally in here I went out there and knocked on his door. He fucking knocked me in my face."

After chatting with Brayden and Odom, Hanning and Summers went to Clark's door; the affidavit emphasizes that they didn't identify themselves as police. "What do you want?" Clark asked after opening the door. Hanning replied, "What the fuck?" after sighting the sword, which was reported to be a little more than a foot in length, with shark teeth around the blade. After forcing his way into the apartment, Hanning yelled, "Put it down, motherfucker!" and Clark did so.

click to enlarge
Michael Clark can be seen on the floor toward the lower left after being tased by Officer Hanning.
5th Judicial District DA's Office
In the moments that followed, Hanning and Summers hollered seemingly conflicting commands at Clark, with the former telling him to step out of the apartment and the latter demanding that he get on the floor. Amid this confusing flurry, as Clark tried to explain about the neighbors pounding on his wall, Hanning fired his taser. Clark, clad only in underwear, was struck in "the abdomen and pelvic area," the affidavit states, causing him to fall back into a chair before striking the floor. Hanning then yanked on Clark's arm, pulling his face into a shelving unit in the process. The officer later told a paramedic that Clark had sustained "a kick to the knee and a cut on his head."

As he was being treated, Clark asked what was happening and stressed that he'd done nothing wrong. Hanning replied: "You punched that girl, then you answered the door with a freaking machete, man."

According to the affidavit, Clark responded that Hanning's claim was "absolutely false.... I did not come after nobody. ... I was just in bed. ... I attacked nobody."

The original releases issued by the Idaho Springs Police Department and the 5th Judicial District DA's Office mentioned a physical altercation between Clark and Hanning — phrasing that struck Schielke as incorrectly implying that the officer had been attacked and acted in self-defense. In contrast, an update issued by the 5th Judicial District on July 13 stresses that Clark complied with a command to put down a "sword-like object" and then was given contradictory orders by the officers prior to being tased.

"I'm sure it's just a coincidence," Schielke notes of the change.

As for the July 29 deadline for the video's release, "we are very relieved," she says. "Colorado passed these laws as part of its broader effort to foster and restore community trust in justice and policing. The body camera release statute is a critical vehicle of that vital public policy. There is very little the public can do to hold its government accountable if body cameras aren’t released, and released promptly, at that. Judge Jones very thoughtfully applied the new law and ruled that Mr. Clark and the public have the right to the videos’ prompt release, just as the statute indicates."

Shielke adds: "This case is unique in that the law became effective on July 6 ,when the 21-day time frame in the bill had already run. One question that had to be decided, and most likely will only affect this case, is from what date to begin running the 21-day clock anew. That’s part of what has us at this later date. Future body-camera releases will not have to deal with that effective-date-of-the-legislation issue in the middle of them, and so the release of the recordings should be even more immediate."

Given the interest in the case, Judge Jones issued an order establishing rules for expanded media coverage during the July 13 hearing. Hanning's next court appearance is scheduled for 2 p.m. on August 24. Click to read the Nicholas Hanning arrest affidavit and the standing decorum order in Colorado v. Nicholas Hanning.