It used to be that the epitome of good deeds was helping a “little old lady” across the street. Not even a self-respecting bully would think of wrestling one to the ground. That’s what makes what happened in Loveland, Colorado, last summer even more disturbing.
Police body cam video has just been released showing Karen Garner, age 73, walking on the side of the road two blocks from her home with wild flowers in her hand when a police cruiser pulls up. Officer Austin Hopp wants to get more information about a call that she had left a Walmart without paying for $13 worth of goods (she returned them when store clerks stopped her). She seems disoriented, shrugging in response to the police officer’s questions.
The officer manhandled her so badly that he broke her arm and dislocated her shoulder.
In fact, Garner has dementia and sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to verbally communicate and understand what others are saying. Instead of stopping and answering questions, she tries to move on, saying only, “I’m going home.” In fact, she repeated that phrase 38 times over the ordeal that day, according to a lawsuit that’s been filed on her behalf. Hopp can be heard saying (as if speaking to a toddler), “Do you need to be arrested right now?” and ends up wrestling her to the ground to get handcuffs on her. At one point he manhandles her so badly as he throws her against the police cruiser that he breaks her arm and dislocates her shoulder.
He is joined by another officer—Daria Jalali—who berates Garner for not being able to remain upright. “Stand up,” Jalali snaps. “We’re not going to hold you.” Soon a police sergeant, Phil Metzler, arrives because of course subduing a woman who is five feet tall and 80 pounds requires a show of force.
Excessive Force: Bloody and Muddy
As we’ve seen over and over in the past few years, video is the only thing that brings such abuse of authority to light. Without video, Garner’s treatment and the roughing up or worse of countless others would be swept under the rug.
A frail older woman is bleeding, in pain, and this registers zero concern.
Maybe the most heartbreaking, maddening moment of the video is when Sergeant Metzler asks Jalali if she’s all right.
“A little bloody, a little muddy. That’s how it works,” she responds. She even gives a bit of a smile at what seems like her clever rhyme.
“Is the blood on her?” Metzler follows up.
“Yeah, it’s her blood,” Hopp states matter-of-factly. Let’s just stop for a minute and consider the gross callousness of this exchange. A frail older woman is bleeding, in pain, and this registers zero concern. The fact that a woman officer is participating in this horrendous episode should shake us out of our easy assumptions that the perpetrators of police brutality are all men.
Garner’s maltreatment didn’t stop there. She was left to sit in the county jail for six hours without medical treatment or contact with her family, the lawsuit claims. Photos show that Garner’s body was heavily bruised, with many cuts and scrapes. According to the lawsuit, filed last week, Garner has become withdrawn and depressed and has lost most functional use of her left arm.
This is not community policing. This is community terrorism.
Shoplifting charges against Garner were later dismissed because of her dementia.
In response to the lawsuit, Gordon McLaughlin, the district attorney for Larimer County, is conducting a criminal investigation of the three officers, assisted by the F.B.I. and the U.S. District Attorney’s Office. Hopp has been put on administrative leave, while the other two have been assigned to desk duty.
“An unbiased, thorough, & transparent criminal investigation will be conducted,” McLaughlin tweeted.
“This is not community policing. This is community terrorism,” Sarah Schielke, a civil rights attorney representing Garner, said. “Ms. Garner is one of the most vulnerable members of our community—a mother, a grandmother, a tiny, frail human with cognitive disabilities—and they treated her like an animal. And if this is what they’re doing to a terrified elderly lady with dementia, what do you think they’re doing to everyone else?”