• Sun. Apr 2nd, 2023


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Ex-Officer Gets 5 Years for Assaulting Woman With Dementia During Arrest

A former Colorado police officer was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of probation on Thursday for assaulting a 73-year-old woman with dementia while arresting her on suspicion of shoplifting around $14 worth of items from a Walmart.

The officer, Austin Hopp, 27, formerly of the Loveland Police Department, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault on March 2 in connection with the assault on the woman, Karen Garner, now 75. She sustained a dislocated shoulder and a broken bone when she was thrown to the ground and pinned during the 2020 arrest.

Sarah Schielke, a lawyer for Ms. Garner, said in an interview Thursday that she was relieved at the sentence, handed down by Judge Michelle Brinegar of Larimer County District Court, and that five years “is probably just the right amount of prison” for Mr. Hopp.

“We witnessed for too long too many police officers getting special treatment every step of the way,” she said. “While the process here with Hopp was not perfect, I think the outcome we got in terms of the criminal sentence was at least or in line with how normal citizens would be treated.”

A lawyer for Mr. Hopp, Jonathan Datz, did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Thursday.

Credit…Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, via Associated Press

Speaking publicly about the assault for the first time during the hearing, Mr. Hopp apologized to Ms. Garner and her family, according to The Denver Post. He said he hadn’t acted out of cruelty or anger during the encounter, but rather had “misjudged” the situation.

“I am truly ashamed of my actions,” he said, according to the newspaper.

Police body-camera footage released last spring by Ms. Schielke showed an officer grabbing Ms. Garner on June 26, 2020, and flinging her to the ground. She had been walking home from a nearby Walmart, where employees had called the police because they said she had walked out without paying for $13.88 worth of items.

Ms. Garner, who has dementia and sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to understand and communicate, forgot to pay for the items, according to her lawyer. A lawsuit filed last April against the city of Loveland stated that the officers who arrested Ms. Garner had broken a bone in her arm and dislocated her shoulder and that she had not been given medical attention for six hours.

In September, Loveland agreed to pay Ms. Garner $3 million to settle her lawsuit against the city.

Another video, also released by Ms. Garner’s lawyer last spring, showed the officers laughing at footage of Ms. Garner’s arrest. “I love it,” one officer says. “This is great.”

Mr. Hopp and another officer who arrested Ms. Garner, along with a community service officer who booked her and is accused of having denied her medical care, resigned in April 2021. Mr. Hopp was one of the two officers who faced criminal charges. The second, Daria Jalali, was charged with not intervening in a case of excessive force or reporting it, prosecutors have said. Her case is pending, said Gordon P. McLaughlin, the Larimer County district attorney.

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. McLaughlin said this case was about more than just excessive force.

“This case also had the lying, the cover-up, and frankly, to me, one of the most horrific things was the celebration that Mr. Hopp engaged in back in the police station at the booking area, where he laughed about what he did,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

He added, “This was someone on a power trip showing that he did not care about the humanity of the citizens that he was sworn to serve.”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.