Law Enforcement

Cop Charged in Rough Dementia Patient Bust: She's "Frail" but "Wily"

Body camera footage of Karen Garner being taken into custody and a photo of her injured arm.
Body camera footage of Karen Garner being taken into custody and a photo of her injured arm. The Life & Liberty Law Office
On May 19, criminal charges were (very) belatedly pressed against Loveland Police Department officers Austin Hopp and Daria Jalali for the rough arrest of Karen Garner, a 73-year-old woman with dementia, in June 2020. Supporting these charges are arrest affidavits, one of which quotes Hopp offering this description of Garner: "A frail little thing, but she's wily."

Hopp admits that if he'd been required to take down "a big dude, it would've been different. But she's, like, twenty pounds."

Not quite, but close. According to a civil lawsuit naming Hopp, Jalali and a third Loveland law enforcement officer, Philip Metzler, Garner's five-foot frame weighs just eighty pounds. She suffered a fractured and dislocated shoulder during the incident, as well as a sprained wrist.

The suit, initially filed last month, notes that Garner "suffers from dementia and sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to communicate and understand." Her condition is emphasized in connection with the reason she originally came to the LPD's attention: On June 26, 2020, she allegedly left a Loveland Walmart without ponying up for a Pepsi, a candy bar, a T-shirt and some Shout Wipe refills cumulatively valued at $13.88. "Forgetting to pay for items at a store is one of the most common and well-known symptoms witnessed in elderly persons suffering from dementia," the document states.

Garner was confronted by an employee as she left the store, then escorted back inside, where the items were confiscated. At that point, Garner tried handing the staffer a credit card, but her offer was rejected — so she exited the store and began walking to her nearby home. En route, she was intercepted by Officer Hopp in a field alongside Mountain Lion Road; she was picking wildflowers, the suit says.

When Garner didn't immediately comply with instructions to stop, for reasons the complaint ascribes to her condition, Hopp tells her, "I don’t think you want to play it this way. Ma’am, police, stop," before asking, "Do you need to be arrested right now?" Shortly thereafter, the suit states, Hopp "leapt out and physically grabbed Ms. Garner’s left arm, and violently twisted it behind her back. Then he threw her 80-pound body to the ground and climbed on top of her, still inflicting upon her the painful rear wristlock maneuver he was employing to put her in handcuffs."

"I'm going home! I'm going home!" Garner exclaimed, adding "No, no, no" as Hopp leaned into her back with his knees. The suit accuses Officer Jalali, who subsequently arrived at the scene, of also using excessive force, while Metzler is blamed for essentially shrugging off the complaint of a citizen who saw what was going on and failing to offer proper care to Garner.

Here's a compendium of the video showing Garner's arrest:

The response to release of the footage backing the suit was swift and condemnatory, with Loveland Police Chief Bob Ticer acknowledging that "community members are concerned about this. We are concerned about this, too. That is why we are taking swift actions. We placed those officers on leave status. I have to look at that as something very serious."

He added: "We will have an independent investigation. We will have the lawsuit to work through. And, to be frank with you, we were not aware of the serious bodily injury" until the suit was filed.

Once Loveland leaders were aware, however, they took action. On May 19, a City of Loveland release revealed that Hopp has been charged with two felonies, second-degree assault of an at-risk adult and attempt to influence a public servant, because "of his failure to report the seriousness of the injuries sustained by Ms. Garner during her arrest." He also was hit with first-degree official misconduct, a misdemeanor. The charges against Jalali are all misdemeanors: failure to report excessive use of force, failure to intervene in the use of excessive force and first-degree official misconduct.

As for Metzler, he's currently on administrative leave "pending the findings of the independent, third-party internal affairs investigation," according to the release — and a fourth person connected to the case, civilian community services officer Tyler Blackett, escaped charges. However, Blackett resigned on April 30, the same day Ticer confirmed that Hopp and Jalali are no longer members of the Loveland Police Department.

Remorse was on full display during a May 19 announcement of the charges.

"As part of our mission to serve and protect, we’ve taken a number of actions,” Ticer stated. "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. 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. Third, since the first of the year, an assistant city attorney now sits within police headquarters to help review all use-of-force cases dating back to 2019, as well as all use-of-force cases moving forward. 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. In addition, all officers will continue to undergo extensive Crisis Intervention Training, as has been done for the last fifteen years."

A report from the 8th Judicial District Critical Incident Response Team used to justify the charges (it's reportedly 700 pages long) has not yet been made public. But the arrest affidavits show how much work needs to be done to change the culture at the Loveland Police Department. After Garner was taken into custody, Hopp was caught on video whispering to Jalali, "I thought I broke her shoulder. Did you hear the pop?"

"Mmmm," Jalali responded.

"When I had her up against the car when you first got there, I was like, 'Okay, if you wanna play....'" he went on. I was pushing, pushing, pushing. I hear" — he made a popping noise while physically demonstrating his actions — "[and] I was like, 'Oh, no!'"

"This is gonna turn into something," Jalali responded.

"Yeah," Hopp conceded.

Nearly a year later, it finally has. Click to read the Austin Hopp and Daria Jalali arrest affidavits and Karen Garner v. City of Loveland, et al.
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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