Colorado police officer joked about excessive force used in arrest of elderly woman
(USA Today) - A Colorado police department has said it wasn't aware of complaints regarding the arrest of 73-year-old Karen Garner, who has dementia, but new video made public Monday shows officers watching bodycam footage, joking about their use of force and noting the case would trigger an internal review.
Video released Monday by Garner's attorney shows Officer Austin Hopp knew the case would be reviewed by "Blue Team," the department's system of keeping track of certain reports, including uses of force and threats of force during arrests.
According to police station surveillance video, Hopp later told fellow police officers “ready for the pop?” as he showed them his body camera footage that was part of the arrest made in Loveland, Colorado, about 50 miles north of Denver, last year.
In a previous statement, the Loveland Police Department said they were not previously aware of any complaints regarding Garner's arrest until the lawsuit was filed April 14. Loveland police previously told The Coloradoan, part of the USA TODAY Network, that internal reviews aren't initiated unless a complaint is filed against an officer by either a resident or another employee.
In the video, Hopp said he reported their use of force to the Blue Team. It's unclear whether the officers' use of force was ever reviewed.
Every officer involved in using force during an incident is required to report it through Blue Team, Loveland Police Chief Bob Ticer said at a Loveland City Council meeting last week.
"That is required that they enter that in through the Blue Team system and then it goes through the review process to see if we were within policy or not," Ticer told council members.
Complaints are also filed into Blue Team to be reviewed, Ticer said.
Sarah Schielke, who is representing Garner and her family in a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive force, shared edited footage from the police department security camera with media Monday morning. The sound in the videos has been enhanced to better understand what officers are saying, according to Schielke.
Schielke said in a news release that Loveland police's claim they had not received a complaint about this arrest is "an attempt to shift the burden" of accountability on to others instead of within the department.
"This is not just some ‘isolated incident.’ It is not just one single ‘problem,’" Schielke said in the statement.
Garner suffered a dislocated shoulder, fractured arm and sprained wrist during her June 26, 2020, arrest, according to the lawsuit.
“This is utterly disgusting," Schielke said in a news release with the video Monday. "... Loveland knew. They’ve known all along. They failed Karen Garner. They failed the community. And they did it all on camera."
'Ready for the pop?': Officers watched bodycam footage together
Hopp arrested Garner in June 2020 after she allegedly left a store without paying for about $14 worth of items. His body camera footage shows Hopp catching up to her as she walks through a field along a road. She shrugs and turns away from him and he quickly grabs her arm and pushes her 80-pound body to the ground. She looks confused and repeatedly says, “I am going home.”
The footage released Monday showed the officers laughing and making comments about Garner's injuries immediately after the arrest.
Security footage at the Loveland police station shows officers Hopp and Daria Jalali watching Hopp's body camera footage of the two arresting Garner, who by that point is handcuffed in a holding cell nearby.
"Ready for the pop?" Hopp said to Jalali and another officer, identified by attorney Sarah Schielke as officer Tyler Blackett, in the video.
"What did you pop?" Blackett asks. "I think it was her shoulder," Hopp said.
A few moments later, Jalali appears to cover her eyes while Hopp and Blackett continue watching the body camera video.
"I hate this," Jalali said. "This is awesome," Hopp says while laughing. "I love it," Blackett says.
In the footage, Hopp is also heard telling Jalali he thought the arrest "went great" after the two fist bump each other. "I think we crushed it," Hopp tells Jalali as they both appear to be filling out paperwork.
"Did you hear the pop? When I had her pushed against the car when you first got there?" Hopp asks Jalali. "I was like, 'OK, you're gonna play,' and I was pushing, pushing, pushing and I hear (pop sound). I was like, 'Oh no.' "
"That's going to turn into something," Jalali responded.
"I can't believe I threw a 73-year-old woman on the ground," Hopp says at another point in the video.
Schiekle said in a statement that she felt she had to release this video to shed light on "Loveland police's toxic culture of arrogance and entitlement, along with their horrific abuse of the vulnerable and powerless."
The lawsuit alleges Hopp, Jalali and Sgt. Phil Metzler used excessive force when arresting Garner. On Sunday, Schielke said an amended complaint was filed to add Blackett and Sgt. Antolina Hill as defendants, accusing them of failing to intervene or provide medical care to Garner.
Eighth Judicial District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin launched the CIRT investigation April 19. Fort Collins Police Services will lead the investigation to determine if any laws were violated. After the CIRT investigation, Ticer said they will work with a third-party investigator to conduct an internal affairs investigation to determine if any officers involved violated department policies.
Hopp, Jalali and Metzler are now on paid administrative leave while the 8th Judicial Critical Incident Response Team conducts a criminal investigation into the incident, Ticer told Loveland City Council during a presentation April 20.
Garner was left without medical care for nearly six hours — first in a holding cell at the police department and then at the jail — before jail deputies realized she was injured, according to the lawsuit. Officers reportedly did not tell anyone at the jail that Garner might be injured.
In previously released body camera footage from Hopp, both Hopp and Metzler are seen speaking with a concerned resident who pulled to the side of the road while officers were arresting Garner. The lawsuit alleges Metzler intimidated and bullied the witness and deactivated his body-worn camera during the interaction to cover up the use of excessive force.
In Ticer's presentation to city council last week, he said 91 out of the 3,162 arrests Loveland police made in 2020 — or 2.9% — involved a use of force.