Crime

No Jail for Cop Who Nearly Killed Elderly Man in False-Info Raid

A family photo of Michael Clark and the mug shot of Idaho Springs Police Officer Nicholas Hanning.
A family photo of Michael Clark and the mug shot of Idaho Springs Police Officer Nicholas Hanning. Family photo/Idaho Springs Police Department
Family members and the attorney representing Michael Clark were furious when 5th Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum officially accepted a plea agreement that reduced the charge against former Idaho Springs Police Officer Nicholas Hanning, who was arrested and later fired for the brutal May 2021 bust of the 75-year-old, from a felony to a misdemeanor. After all, the raid had been based on false information, and the tasing of Clark triggered a series of health crises that nearly killed him — and he has not yet fully recovered.

But the anger over this turn of events was minor compared to the reaction yesterday, January 27, when Hanning was given a sentence that didn't call for a single day of jail time. Instead, Clear Creek County Judge Cynthia Jones ordered him to complete two years of probation, wear an ankle monitor for 120 days, participate in 150 hours of community service and take anger-management classes.

Sarah Schielke of The Life & Liberty Law Firm joined Clark's relatives in expressing their contempt for the Hanning wrist slap after the hearing, then launched a livid tweetstorm at McCollum and Deputy DA Steve Potts, who prosecuted the case. Schielke's messages included the following:

"Never before have I seen the PROSECUTOR dedicate his sentencing argmt to requesting leniency for defendant. Never before have I seen the judge so brazenly ignore the suffering of a victim at a sentencing. What a GROTESQUE show of top to bottom corruption."

"Prosecutors on Thursday did not ask the judge for the maximum sentence or make any specific sentence recommendation. District Attorney Potts called Hanning’s actions a 'tragic, tragic, tragic error.' WOW
@coloradoda5 WAY TO PROSECUTE CRIMINALS WHO R COPS."

"What they don't tell you in cop school is that you can test out your weapon toys and nearly kill elderly citizens with your taser and if they then appear to ACTUALLY nearly die... np!!! you just flash your cop card & poof both judge and DA keep you safe."

The incident that she describes occurred late on May 30, 2020. Hanning and fellow Idaho Springs Police officer Ellie Summers, who subsequently resigned from the department, arrived at Clark's home, prompted by what turned out to be a bogus assault claim from a neighbor. When Clark opened the door, he was wearing only his underwear and holding a souvenir Hawaiian sword, and even though he put down the sword at the officers' request, Hanning tased him. The jolt caused Clark to fall and strike his head, and the injuries he suffered required emergency medical care.

Here's body-camera video of what happened:
The video "is horrible to watch, and horrible for us as a family six months later," Sherri Clark, Michael's daughter-in-law, told Westword in November. "And it took them eight weeks to let us see it. They took him to the hospital, and when we got there, officers and nurses told us that he'd punched a girl next door and he came after the officers with a machete. But when we finally saw the video, we saw that Mike complied with all of their orders with the exception of getting down on the ground. He was standing there in his boxers trying to explain what was going on, and the next thing you know, he's tased, dragged out, handcuffed: the whole nine yards. And then Officer Hanning grabs the sword and throws it out in the hallway."

She added that Clark had "been in the hospital more days than not since this whole thing happened. The biggest thing is that he suffered a traumatic brain injury, and since then, it's just been a snowball. He had to have brain burr surgery, where they drilled a burr hole in his skull to relieve the pressure from a brain bleed. There have been all kinds of complications from that, and if he had never been tased by Officer Hanning, he would never be where he's at today. It's very scary."

Because of his ongoing health issues, Clark was unable to appear in person at the January 27 hearing. Instead, Schielke played a video in which he said, "My life’s been taken away from me. I’ve fought hard to be able to walk, to be able to function. With everything that’s happened, I never gave up, and I will not give up."

Neither will Schielke, whose lawsuit against Hanning, Summers and the City of Idaho Springs remains active. These three defendants are also named in a September lawsuit filed by Brady Mistic, who's deaf; that complaint, based on a 2019 incident during which Hanning broke his own leg, claims that Mistic was "falsely charged...with assault on a police officer in an illusory attempt to cover up their misconduct — which caused [Mistic] to unjustifiably spend months in jail without appropriate accommodations to help him communicate that he was, in fact, the victim."

DA McCollum issued her own statement after Hanning's sentencing, noting that he will never again be allowed to work in law enforcement after losing his certification. "I accept the judge’s sentence in this case, and strongly believe that police officers need to be held accountable for their actions when performing their trusted public service duties," she said. "While we understand that law enforcement officers have difficult jobs to do, Mr. Hanning made a reckless decision, and the wrong decision, to deploy his Taser on Mr. Clark, causing him and his family so much pain and suffering over the last eight months."

Continue to see a brief video of Schielke talking about Hanning's sentence, as teased by a strongly worded introduction.

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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts