Law Enforcement

Furor Over Plea Deal for Ex-Cop Over Assault on Elderly Man

Attorney Sarah Schielke, left, and members of Michael Clark's family spoke to the press prior to the December 9 hearing.
Attorney Sarah Schielke, left, and members of Michael Clark's family spoke to the press prior to the December 9 hearing. Denver7 via @CB_Cotton
On December 9, former Idaho Springs Police Officer Nicholas Hanning, who was arrested and later fired for his brutal bust of 75-year-old Michael Clark in May, officially accepted a plea agreement that reduced the charge against him from a felony to a misdemeanor. But the agreement doesn't close the door on the case.

Clark's family is infuriated by the deal, and Sarah Schielke of The Life & Liberty Law Firm is arguing for a do-over. Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed in July over the incident remains in play even as Clark continues to fight for his life as a result of injuries he sustained after being rousted over what turned out to be a false accusation.

The hearing was originally scheduled for November 30, and while the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office wouldn't confirm that the initial charge of third-degree assault on an at-risk adult, a Class 6 felony, would be reduced to simple third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, Clark's daughter-in-law, Sherri Clark, told us that family members had been informed of the switch — and they were extremely unhappy about it.

"First, they charge the officer with the lowest on the bucket list of crimes," she told us. "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."

Late on May 30, Hanning and fellow Idaho Springs Police Officer Ellie Summers, who resigned from the department last month, arrived at Clark's home, prompted by 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 stressed. "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."

Clark has "been in the hospital more days than not since this whole thing happened," she added. "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."

As reported by Denver7, Schielke made many of these points during the December 9 hearing. She also filed a motion asking that the court dump the plea pact and appoint a special prosecutor from another jurisdiction to take a fresh look at the evidence. But while Clear Creek District Court Judge Cynthia Jones set a January 6 hearing to consider the motion, she also accepted Hanning's plea. If a special prosecutor is named early next month, the deal is off; if not, Hanning will be sentenced on January 27.

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