Ex-officer gets 5 years for rough arrest of woman with dementia
The officer had faced anywhere from probation up to eight years behind bars after pleading guilty to second-degree assault
By Elise Schmelzer
The Denver Post
DENVER — A former Loveland police officer will spend up to five years in prison for violently arresting a 73-year-old woman with dementia, breaking her arm and dislocating her shoulder.
The sentencing of Austin Hopp on Thursday is the latest development in the nearly two-year saga of the 2020 arrest, which spawned protests, criminal prosecutions, a multimillion-dollar civil settlement and internal investigations at the northern Colorado police department.
Larimer County District Court Judge Michelle Brinegar entered the five-year prison sentence with an additional three years of parole and said Hopp inflicted harm not only on Garner and her family, but on the community as a whole.
Hopp’s actions were “deliberate, deceitful and calculated” and Hopp failed to take accountability or mitigate the harm he caused in the hours and days that followed the assault, Brinegar said.
The call to police about an alleged attempted petty shoplifting should never have escalated to violence, the judge said, noting only 26 seconds passed between Hopp getting out of his car and Hopp taking Garner to the ground.
“This case is not about a mistake,” Brinegar said. “This about a young officer who used his position of power and authority to show off his toughness, disregarded any sense of humanity and showed an alarming deal of criminal thinking.”
Hopp apologized to Garner, her family, the Loveland community and the police profession during the hearing Thursday, speaking publicly about the assault for the first time. He said he didn’t act out of cruelty or anger but that he “misjudged” the situation. He said he accepted responsibility for the harm he caused.
“I am truly ashamed of my actions,” Hopp said.
Hopp pleaded guilty March 2 to second-degree assault, a felony, in Larimer County District Court. The maximum sentence under Colorado law for the crime is eight years in prison and the minimum sentence is probation.
Garner’s health and memory deteriorated quickly after the assault, her children said Thursday during the sentencing hearing. She was living independently at the time of the arrest and now lives in a memory care facility and has post-traumatic stress disorder from the assault.
“This made the disease progress much faster, taking that much more time away from us,” said John Stewart, her son.
Hopp failed to uphold his oath and obligations as a police officer and he inflicted harm instead of protecting and serving the public, Garner’s children said. They asked Brinegar to sentence Hopp to prison.
“When she’s with me, all she asks is, ‘Why did he do that to me?'” said Allisa Swartz, Garner’s daughter.
Hopp’s defense attorney, Jonathan Datz, said Thursday there was no justification for the former officer’s actions. He did not make a sentencing recommendation but asked Brinegar to see his client’s humanity. Datz acknowledged his request was difficult, as Hopp “failed to see the humanity in Ms. Garner that day.”
“He can never look anyone in the eye and demand forgiveness,” Datz said. “All he can do is ask forgiveness.”
Security officers at a Walmart store in Loveland called 911 on June 26, 2020, after Garner allegedly tried to walk out with $13 worth of merchandise. Store employees made Garner leave the merchandise at the store and criminal charges against Garner were dismissed. Garner’s family has said they believe Garner forgot to pay for the items and was confused.
Hopp found Garner walking home along a road a short time later. He took the 5-foot-2-inch, 80-pound grandmother to the ground within 30 seconds of contacting her after she kept walking despite his orders for her to stop, body camera footage of the interaction shows. He then handcuffed her, forced her against his police cruiser and later used a hobble to restrain her feet. Another officer, Daria Jalali, arrived at the scene after the arrest began and helped Hopp.
Video of the Loveland Police Department booking area the day of the incident released by Sarah Schielke, the Garner family’s attorney, shows Hopp, Jalali and Community Service Officer Tyler Blackett watching body camera footage of the arrest and laughing about it while Garner sat handcuffed to a bench in a nearby cell.
“Ready for the pop?” Hopp said to other officers while re-watching the footage together.
“What popped?” another officer asked.
“I think it was her shoulder,” Hopp responded.
In the video, Hopp also can be heard saying, “I can’t believe I threw a 73-year-old on the ground.” After watching the footage of the arrest for several minutes, Jalali starts repeating, “I hate this,” to which Hopp responds, “This is great” and “I love this.”
Despite noting Garner’s injury while watching the video, Hopp did not mention that Garner’s shoulder was injured in his use-of-force report. None of the three officers offered Garner medical help even as she repeatedly said her shoulder hurt.
Garner’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in April 2021, bringing the violent arrest to public attention for the first time. Their attorney released body camera footage of the incident, which brought national attention to the department. The city settled the lawsuit for $3 million in September.