Law Enforcement

Claim: Misdemeanor for Ex-Cop's Brutal Arrest of Elderly Man

Screen captures from body-worn camera videos show Idaho Springs Police Officer Ellie Summers dragging a just-tased Michael Clark (left) and Officer Nicholas Hanning pressing his knee against Clark's neck (right).
Screen captures from body-worn camera videos show Idaho Springs Police Officer Ellie Summers dragging a just-tased Michael Clark (left) and Officer Nicholas Hanning pressing his knee against Clark's neck (right). Idaho Springs Police Department via The Life and Liberty Law Office
Update: The hearing for ex-Idaho Springs Police Officer Nicholas Hanning has been rescheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, December 9. Continue for our previous coverage.

In late May, 75-year-old Idaho Springs resident Michael Clark was the victim of a brutal arrest prompted by a neighbor's false claims. Nicholas Hanning, one of the cops who responded to the call, was subsequently fired and charged with felony assault. But according to Clark's daughter-in-law, Sherri Clark, at a hearing scheduled for Clear Creek District Court in Georgetown at 2 p.m. today, November 30, Hanning is expected to accept a plea deal that will reduce his offense from third-degree assault on an at-risk adult, a Class 6 felony, to simple third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. And she makes it clear that Clark's family isn't happy about it.

"First, they charge the officer with the lowest on the bucket list of crimes," she notes. "A third-degree assault is the lowest assault, and a Class 6 felony is the lowest felony. It's like, 'Okay, you did bad. You have a time-out.' But then they took away the at-risk part, even though Mike is over seventy. And I don't feel like the punishment suits what happened."

John Bryan, public-information officer for the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, won't confirm that such an offer has been made to Hanning. "The DA's office doesn't typically comment about the disposition/outcome of ongoing cases — things can and do change," he says. However, Sherri Clark reveals that the family received an email from authorities informing them of the agreement.

Late on May 30, Clark was clad only in his underwear when Hanning and fellow Idaho Springs Police Officer Ellie Summers, who resigned from the department earlier this month, arrived at his home, prompted by a bogus assault claim from a neighbor. When Clark opened the door, he was holding a souvenir Hawaiian sword, but even though he put it down 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 stresses. "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." The family, which filed a lawsuit in July over the incident, sees that action as evidence that Hanning was already planning his defense.

Michael Clark's health repercussions continue to this day.

"Mike is in the hospital again," his daughter-in-law notes. "He's 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."

A misdemeanor conviction "still means Officer Hanning will lose his police certification in the State of Colorado," Sherri Clark acknowledges. "But we just don't feel like it's justice."

Click to read Michael Clark v. City of Idaho Springs, et al. and the Nicholas Hanning arrest affidavit.
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.
Contact: Michael Roberts