Law Enforcement

Elderly Dementia Victim's Rough Arrest Video Prompts Investigations

A screen capture from body-camera video of Karen Garner's 2020 arrest in Loveland.
A screen capture from body-camera video of Karen Garner's 2020 arrest in Loveland. Loveland Police Department via YouTube
The fallout continues over the injury-inducing 2020 arrest of Loveland's Karen Garner, a 73-year-old suffering from dementia who's five feet tall and weighs just eighty pounds. In the days following the release of a video clip of that arrest, which serves as exhibit A for a lawsuit filed against Loveland and three of its police officers, two official actions have been announced — a review of facts by the district attorney for the area and an independent probe launched by the city.

The complaint was filed on April 14 in U.S. District Court by Loveland-based The Life & Liberty Law Firm. The officers named as defendants are Austin Hopp, Daria Jalali and Philip Metzler.

The suit 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 paying for a Pepsi, a candy bar, a T-shirt and some Shout Wipe refills cumulatively valued at $13.88 — an example of forgetfulness common for individuals with such maladies.

After the items were confiscated by an employee, Garner began walking to her nearby home — but she was intercepted by Officer Hopp as she was picking wildflowers in a field alongside Mountain Lion Road. When she didn't immediately comply with Hopp's instructions to stop, for reasons the suit ascribes to her dementia, 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 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."

Here's a subtitled video collage showing Garner's arrest, during which her shoulder was fractured and dislocated and her wrist was sprained.

The subsequent barrage of negative PR for Loveland, coming on the heels of controversy over a photo of city council member Don Overcash and other white officials wearing Afro wigs while costumed as members of a monkey band, prompted quick action. On April 15, 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 issued a document showing that all charges against Garner had been dismissed as proof. Prosecutors are currently reviewing the facts to determine "whether an independent criminal investigation is warranted," the statement added.

Cut to yesterday, April 19, when 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." In addition, Loveland Police Chief Bob Ticer is expected to address the matter at the city council meeting slated to get under way at 6 p.m. today, April 20; to view it, click here.

Here are the statements from the 8th Judicial District DA's office and the City of Loveland.

8th Judicial District statement:

The 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office shares the community's concern regarding the level of force shown in the video footage of Ms. Garner's arrest. Ms. Garner's misdemeanor case was dismissed by the previous administration.... The current administration has not previously had the opportunity to review this incident, and no investigation regarding any improper use of force has been presented to our office. This matter was brought to our attention when media reports surfaced.... The Loveland Police Department has announced it will conduct an investigation into the officer's conduct. The District Attorney's Office is processing the information we have and will continue to review facts as they are provided. Our office is committed to fair and professional reviews of alleged excessive use of force. After further review, the District Attorney's Office will consider whether an independent criminal investigation is warranted.

City of Loveland statement:

Over the past week, the City of Loveland and City Council received an abundance of telephone calls, emails, and social media messages from constituents deeply concerned about the events cited in the Garner vs. City of Loveland federal lawsuit and related video footage. The footage is difficult to watch and we understand the strong emotions evoked including the outrage, fear, and distrust. We understand your concerns and the seriousness of the allegations in the lawsuit, and are taking a full account of all the questions and concerns raised. Due to the lawsuit filed and the need to protect employee rights to due process, our ability to speak freely on this event is limited, but here is what we can share:

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 arresting officer has been placed on administrative leave.

The two other officers assisting and overseeing the arrest have been removed from the field and reassigned to administrative work.
The Loveland Police Department has been training officers in crisis intervention and mental health awareness for several years.
The Police Department has utilized the co-responder training program for the past six years, which includes a partnership with local mental health and addiction services provider, SummitStone Health Partners.
Police Chief Robert Ticer will be providing a brief update at the Tuesday, April 20th City Council meeting....
Members of City Council are expected to convene into a confidential Executive Session after the briefing to discuss the process for investigating police complaints in relation to legal liability.

Please know that we are prioritizing this matter and will provide more information as soon as it is available. The City is committed to providing a safe environment for all in Loveland and will remain accountable to the residents.

Continue to read Karen Garner v. City of Loveland, et al. and the motion to dismiss.
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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