Attorney for Colorado woman with dementia files civil rights lawsuit

LOVELAND, Colo. — A 73-year-old Colorado woman with dementia, who was handcuffed and pushed to the ground after she was accused of shoplifting, is the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Loveland Police Department.

>> Read more trending news

A Loveland law office filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Karen Garner, alleging excessive use of force by the department and officers Austin Hopp and Daria Jalali and Sgt. Phil Metzler, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Hopp was placed on administrative leave Thursday pending the outcome of a police investigation, according to The Associated Press. Jalali and Metzler were reassigned to administrative duties, the Loveland Police Department said. Loveland City Council members called for a review of police department policies on Thursday, according to the Reporter-Herald.

“LPD takes very seriously the allegations concerning the arrest of resident Karen Garner, and shares with the community the concerns about video images that became public on Wednesday,” the department said in a statement.

Garner suffered a fractured arm and dislocated shoulder in the June 26, 2020, incident at a Walmart in Loveland, according to the lawsuit. Garner was accused of not paying for $13.88 in items, KCNC reported.

Attorney Sarah Schielke’s lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, KDVR reported.

“This lady is not all there,” Schielke told the television station. “(The officer should) give it another second.”

According to the lawsuit, Garner suffers from dementia and sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to communicate and understand.

The lawsuit alleges that Walmart employees asked Garner to return to the store when they saw her leave without paying and took the items back -- a soda, a candy bar, a T-shirt, and wipe refills -- denying her request to pay for the items.

“We stopped Ms. Garner after noticing her attempt to take merchandise from the store without paying for it,” a Walmart spokesperson told KDVR. “When we addressed this issue directly with her the situation escalated when she forcibly removed an associate’s face mask and fled the store. The police were called only after Ms. Garner became physical with an associate.”

>> Read full lawsuit here

The lawsuit alleges that Hopp “violently assaulted Garner without provocation” as she was walking home from the east Loveland Walmart.

In a statement, the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office said it “shares the community’s concern regarding the level of force shown.”

Police body camera video included as part of Garner’s lawsuit, Hopp can be heard saying, “Ma’am, I don’t think you want to play it this way,” as he appears to stop his patrol vehicle and approach Garner.

“You just left Walmart, do you need to be arrested right now?” the officer asked.

“I’m going home,” Garner responded, according to the video.

At one point, Garner was handcuffed and taken to the ground, KDVR reported.

“It looks bad … you’re a big guy … you’re taking a little old lady down to the ground,” former Denver police Lt. James Ponzi, a 35-year veteran of law enforcement, told KDVR.

Jalali assisted Hopp with the arrest, according to the lawsuit. Metzler, who later appeared on the scene, approved of the arrest, the lawsuit says, and directed that Garner “be denied access to medical care for her injuries afterward.”

The lawsuit claims that Garner was handcuffed to a cell at the police department for more than two hours, KCNC reported. She was then transferred to the Larimer County Jail where she remained for another three hours without medical treatment.

Schielke said she is concerned for other elderly or disabled people in Loveland.

“Arrest and injure and criminally charge first and ask questions never is apparently how they do it at Loveland,” Schielke told the Reporter-Herald.

The charges against Garner were dismissed after prosecutors wrote in an August 2020 motion that she “appears to be incapable of understanding her surroundings or her actions,” according to the AP.

“Our office is committed to fair and professional reviews of alleged excessive use of force,” the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “After further review, the District Attorney’s Office will consider whether an independent criminal investigation is warranted.”