The rough 2020 arrest of Karen Garner, an elderly dementia patient who's only five feet tall and weighs eighty pounds, has already cost the City of Loveland $3 million — the amount paid to settle a lawsuit over the incident last year. But Austin Hopp, the former Loveland Police Department officer who did the damage, is paying personally — with his freedom. On May 5, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
Attorney Sarah Schielke of The Life & Liberty Law Firm, who represented Garner and her family in the complaint, responded to Hopp's punishment on Twitter: "As a real non-fan of how we do prison in this country, allow me to say that for once this does feel like just the right amount of prison. Today, I checked 'send a bad police officer to prison' off my bucket list."
The complaint, filed in April 2021, offers a thorough account of what happened on June 26, 2020, as well as details of Garner's condition; she "suffers from dementia and sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to communicate and understand."
Garner had left a Loveland Walmart after forgetting to pay for a Pepsi, a candy bar, a T-shirt and some Shout Wipe refills cumulatively valued at $13.88. She was picking wildflowers while walking home along Mountain Lion Road when she was intercepted by Hopp — and when she didn't immediately comply with his instructions to stop, the officer "leapt out and physically grabbed Ms. Garner’s left arm, and violently twisted it behind her back," the lawsuit contends. "Then he threw her eighty-pound body to the ground and climbed on top of her, still inflicting upon her the painful rear wrist-lock maneuver he was employing to put her in handcuffs."
Here's a subtitled video collage showing Garner's arrest, during which her shoulder was fractured and dislocated and her wrist was sprained:
After the suit and accompanying video were made public, authorities in Loveland engaged in assorted mea culpas and ass-covering actions. On April 15, 2021, the 8th Judicial District DA's office put out a release stressing that its members were unaware of the Garner case because it had been handled by the "previous administration," and shared paperwork showing that all charges against Garner had been dismissed as proof. Then, on April 19, the City of Loveland announced that "a full investigation of the event and all parties involved will be conducted by an independent, third party to determine whether officers were within policy, and if not within policy, to implement corrective actions."
The inquiry led to the charges against Hopp and fellow police officer Daria Jalali, who also responded to the scene. Hopp was initially accused of second-degree assault causing serious bodily injury, attempt to influence a public servant and official misconduct; once he pleaded guilty to the assault this past March, the other two beefs were dropped. For her part, Jalali was hit with failure to report use of force by a peace officer, failure to intervene and first-degree official misconduct. She's pleaded not guilty to all three alleged violations.
After Hopp was sentenced, interim Loveland Police Chief Eric Stewart released the following statement: "The Loveland Police Department is grateful for the District Attorney’s diligence and pursuit of due process during this very important case. While this will not change the terrible treatment Ms. Garner experienced, we hope that this sentence can bring some measure of justice to her and her family."
KEEP WESTWORD FREE...
Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.