The city of Loveland, Colorado, has agreed to pay $3 million to an elderly woman who was violently arrested by police last year.
Loveland Police Department (LPD) Officer Austin Hopp threw 73-year-old Karen Garner to the ground in June of 2020, fracturing her arm and dislocating her shoulder after she allegedly stole $13.88 worth of merchandise from Wal-Mart, according to a federal lawsuit. Garner, who suffers from dementia and sensory aphasia, was picking wildflowers on her walk home when Hopp approached her. The latter ailment is a result of brain damage and makes it difficult for those like Garner to communicate and process what others are saying.
"The settlement with Karen Garner will help bring some closure to an unfortunate event in our community but does not upend the work we have left to do. We extend a deep and heartfelt apology to Karen Garner and her family for what they have endured as a result of this arrest," Loveland City Manager Steve Adams said in a statement. "We know we did not act in a manner that upholds the values, integrity, and policies of the City and police department, and we are taking the necessary steps to make sure these actions are never repeated."
Body camera footage shows Hopp moving Garner to a squad car, pressing her down on the hood while forcibly pushing her contorted left arm—which was handcuffed behind her back—above her head. "We don't play this game," he says on the body camera footage. "You understand me?" You hear a pop, and she screams.
Hopp is now facing criminal charges, including second-degree assault. Former Officer Daria Jalali was charged with three misdemeanors: failure to report excessive use of force, failure to intervene in the use of excessive force, and first-degree official misconduct. Both officers resigned in April.
Additional video shows three cops—Hopp, Jalia, and Tyler Blackett—watching the footage the day they booked Garner.
"Ready for the pop?" asks Hopp, as Jalia squirms and appears visibly uncomfortable. "Hear the pop?"
"What'd you pop?" asks Blackett. "I think it was her shoulder," responds Hopp, as he re-enacts the motion.
"I hate it," says Jalia.
"I love it," one of the male officers responds. Garner did not receive medical care for six hours after the ordeal, according to the suit. (Blackett later resigned.)
Loveland Police Chief Robert Ticer has claimed that the department was unaware of the extent of the brutality until the lawsuit became public, but the contents of an internal report released yesterday appear to directly contradict that, with documents showing that Assistant Chief of Police Ray Butler viewed the footage and said that Hopp's actions were "necessary, reasonable and within policy."
"There is no excuse, under any circumstances, for what happened to Ms. Garner. We have agreed on steps we need to take to begin building back trust," Ticer said in a statement. "While these actions won't change what Ms. Garner experienced, they will serve to improve this police department and hopefully restore faith that the LPD exists to serve those who live in and visit Loveland." He also said that department policy now requires an assistant city attorney and personnel from city of Loveland human resources to review use of force incidents, as opposed to just a member of the police force. Sarah Schielke, an attorney for the family, has called for his resignation.
"This settlement brings a measure of justice to the Garner family, but it does not deliver full justice," Schielke said during a Wednesday press conference. "Full justice to Karen Garner and this community will happen at the moment that every individual who participated in this atrocity and who fostered the conditions and culture that made its happening possible is held accountable."
Police accountability has been a mainstay of the public debate around law-enforcement reform for the last year, beginning in late May of 2020, not long before Garner's arrest. But Garner's story wouldn't come to light for several months, until April of this year, when Garner filed her suit.
Whether or not this constitutes meaningful accountability is up for debate. While it is remarkably rare that police officers are convicted of criminal wrongdoing, two have been charged here, which is also uncommon in itself. Garner's settlement was approved by the city, which means it will be financed by taxpayers and no officers involved will have to weather a civil court trial. Colorado is one of a few states to strip officers of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields certain government officials from lawsuits if the precise way they allegedly misbehaved has not yet been ruled unconstitutional in a prior court ruling.
That law was passed the day before Garner's brutal arrest. Though she will not confront the alleged culprits in civil court—perhaps an indication from the city of just how much of a legal loser their case was—she will receive just compensation, which is more than many victims of government abuse can say.