Ex-cop sentenced for violent arrest of elderly woman with dementia

Posted at 10:20 PM, May 5, 2022 and last updated 12:41 AM, December 13, 2022

By: Stephanie Butzer

LOVELAND, Colo. (KMGH) — A former Loveland, Colorado police officer was sentenced to prison Thursday after taking a plea deal in connection to a violent arrest of a 75-year-old woman in 2020.

FILE – This undated photo provided by the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office shows Austin Hopp in Fort Collins, Colo. Hopp, a former Colorado police officer shown on body camera video roughly arresting a 73-year-old woman with dementia and later seen joking about it with colleagues was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison. (Larimer County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File)

Judge C. Michelle Brinegar sentenced former Loveland police officer Austin Hopp to five years in prison, plus three years of parole, according to court documents.

Hopp pleaded guilty to one count of felony assault in early March for the June 26, 2020 arrest of 75-year-old Karen Garner. As part of the plea deal, other charges against him were dropped.

Her arrest was publicized in April 2021, when Garner’s family filed a federal lawsuit. Garner, who has dementia, was arrested after a shoplifting incident where she was suspected of leaving a Loveland Walmart and not paying for $13.88 worth of items, a common practice among those with dementia, according to the lawsuit. She was stopped by Hopp and former officer Daria Jalali. Body camera video showed Hopp grabbing Garner’s arm and pushing her to the ground.

The lawsuit claimed officers refused to provide any mental health assistance or medical care for her injuries, which included a broken arm and dislocated shoulder.

After the arrest, video from inside the Loveland Police Department’s booking area showed the officers laughing about the arrest and fist-bumping each other while watching the body camera video.

FILE – This video from the Loveland Police Department body camera footage shows Karen Garner on the ground while being arrested on June 26, 2020. Austin Hopp a former Colorado police officer shown on body camera video roughly arresting the 73-year-old woman with dementia and later seen joking about it has been sentenced to five years in prison. A judge also ordered Austin Hopp to serve three years of parole during Thursday May 5, 2022, sentencing hearing. (Loveland Police Department via AP, File)

Initially, the two officers were placed on administrative leave. Soon after, they were no longer with the department — though it’s unclear if they were fired or resigned — and they were arrested in May 2021.

The Garner family settled the lawsuit against the City of Loveland for $3 million in September 2021.

“Thirteen dollars and 88 cents is the business interest that Loveland believed was worth inflicting this atrocity,” Garner’s attorney, Sarah Schielke, said the day the settlement was announced. “Today, they pay Ms. Garner $3 million. The amount of this settlement is likely record-breaking for a civil rights case that doesn’t involve death or permanent disfigurement. Not only does its amount send a powerful message, but the speed in which it was obtained does as well — just four months since we filed the lawsuit.”

Schielke said the family decided to settle with the city after they found a letter written by Garner from several years prior, when dementia first started affecting her.

The letter, in part, reads, “All I’ve wanted all my life was someone to love, adore and care about me. I find the world scary now, being alone. So value love as a treasured gift that is all that matters. I want the best and fullest lives possible for my children and grandchildren. I feel the world is getting crueler. Don’t make it any rougher for yourselves by living in the past. Look out the front window. Don’t dwell on what’s in the rear view mirror.”

Karen Garner (Garner Family/KMGH)

Schielke said this proved that Garner, who could not express what she wanted to do regarding the settlement, wanted closure and peace for her loved ones.

Garner’s arrest sparked the need for an independent review of the police department, and those results were released in January. It found that staffing shortages at the department were leading to fatigue and frustration and the data-driven approach focused on the number of arrests and citations was hurting the quality of policing.

Jalali pleaded not guilty on charges of failure to report use of force by a peace officer, failure to intervene and first-degree official misconduct.

In response to the sentencing Thursday, Loveland Police Department Interim Chief Eric Steward said: “The Loveland Police Department is grateful for the District Attorney’s diligence and pursuit of due process during this very important case. While this will not change the terrible treatment Ms. Garner experienced, we hope that this sentence can bring some measure of justice to her and her family.”

This story was originally published May 5, 2022 by KMGH in Denver, an E.W. Scripps Company.