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Karen Garner case: Ex-officers face charges in arrest of 73-year-old Colorado woman with dementia

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 5/20/2021 Sady Swanson, Fort Collins Coloradoan
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Two former police officers face criminal charges for how they handled the June 2020 arrest of a 73-year-old Colorado woman with dementia, prosecutors said Wednesday. 

Former officers Austin Hopp and Daria Jalali each face three charges related to the arrest of Loveland, Colorado, resident Karen Garner, District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin announced during an afternoon news conference. 

"It is my ethical duty to apply the facts as they exist to the law as it is written," McLaughlin said. "Our considered decision in this case today is that criminal charges should and have been filed against two former Loveland police officers."

Hopp is facing charges of second-degree assault, attempting to influence a public servant and official misconduct in last year’s arrest of Karen Garner in Loveland, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Denver. Daria Jalali, who arrived after Garner was handcuffed, is facing charges of failing to report use of force, failing to intervene and official misconduct.

a living room filled with furniture and a tv: District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin addresses the media following the news that two former Loveland police officers will face criminal charges for the June 2020 arrest of an elderly woman with dementia during the press conference at the Larimer County Courthouse Offices in Fort Collins, Colo. on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. © Bethany Baker / The Coloradoan District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin addresses the media following the news that two former Loveland police officers will face criminal charges for the June 2020 arrest of an elderly woman with dementia during the press conference at the Larimer County Courthouse Offices in Fort Collins, Colo. on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

"While peace officers are permitted to use reasonable force to effect an arrest, the investigation in this case showed that Austin Hopp used excessive force in the arrest of Ms. Garner, and that resulted in serious bodily injury," McLaughlin said. 

Related: Loveland council votes to approve Community Trust Commission in response to Garner arrest

Hopp also made "substantial omissions" in his report of the arrest "in an attempt to thwart the investigation of his conduct," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said the investigation showed Jalali witnessed the excessive force and "failed to live up to her duties under the law and as a sworn peace officer to either intervene or report ... that conduct." 

"I fully support these charges," Loveland Police Chief Robert Ticer said in a separate news conference Wednesday afternoon. Ticer said the "charges stand for themselves" and "the actions and attitudes" of the former officers "are in direct contrast to the culture we strive to achieve."

"We understand the desire for accountability and justice and we are seeing that today for Ms. Garner with the charges being filed," Ticer said.

Ticer said he was "not surprised by the charges," and his reaction to those charges is "extreme disappointment as a community, as a police department and as a human being."

Ticer said a third-party investigation overseen by the city of Loveland's human resources department will begin immediately and that his department will cooperate with the criminal investigation.

Ticer cited three actions he said the department has taken since the lawsuit was filed:

"A majority of our police officers" have taken Alzheimer's awareness training and, starting next month, the department will put additional de-escalation training in place, he said.

Dealing with dementia: First responders need to 'slow down,' ask questions, group says

An assistant city attorney is assisting in a review of all use of force cases, starting with cases in 2019 and with any future use of force cases, he added.

"This extra layer of scrutiny is important not only to the department, but to the community, the community that we serve, to ensure the policies and laws are being followed."

Ticer said this incident does not reflect an overarching issue within the police department's culture. 

"Our officers that work here right now are integrity based, they have ethics, they have duty, they work so hard," he said. "... They do it the right way, the officers that are employed here today."

Garner's attorney, Sarah Schielke, said the charges against Hopp and Jalali "a start, but it is not good enough.

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"Make no mistake, the Garner family feels immense relief the DA's office has charged some of these criminals with actual crimes."

Schielke said she believed charges should have been filed against the other officers named in the federal lawsuit.

"Ultimately, the DA office's decision to stop their charging decisions after Hopp and Jalali has left this family with more questions than answers and more concern than relief," Schielke said.

This incident did not happen in a vacuum, Schielke said, or the other officers who witnessed and heard about the arrest would have stepped in to provide Garner with the medic

Garner's daughter, Allisa Swartz, offered an update on her mother: "She's just really scared and traumatized," Swartz said. "Instead of embracing us because we are her loved ones, she pushes us away. She's just scared."

How the investigation worked

The charges against Hopp and Jalali were filed as a result of a Critical Incident Response Team investigation launched by McLaughlin on April 19 and led by Fort Collins Police Services.

CIRT investigations typically involve a mix of officers from different agencies, but because officers from Loveland police and the Larimer County Sheriff's Office had contact with Garner during her arrest, it was decided that only Fort Collins police would conduct the investigation. 

"Trust is vital in the criminal justice system," Fort Collins Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said during the district attorney's news conference. "And CIRT framework is meant to standardize investigations where they place a premium on accountability and transparency."

Three Fort Collins police detectives were assigned full time to this case, Swoboda said, and "left no stone unturned."

During the monthlong investigation, they conducted 24 interviews, reviewed and transcribed hours of video and audio recordings, and presented their final nearly 700-page CIRT investigation report to McLaughlin on Monday, Swoboda said. 

Watch: Loveland Police Department, Karen Garner family talk about investigation

"Ensuring public trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system is vital to our community safety and our fundamental belief in fairness," McLaughlin said. 

McLaughlin said the "thorough investigation" conducted by Fort Collins police "will allow us to move forward in the pursuit of justice in this case for Karen Garner, for her family and for the Larimer County community." 

"I believe this decision speaks clearly to our community that accountability will be achieved through our independent Critical Incident Response Team process, and I hope today can be a step in building trust between the criminal justice community and the Larimer County community," McLaughlin said.

Why other officers aren't facing criminal charges

Hopp and Jalali weren't the only officers involved in the incident. They, along with former community service officer Tyler Blackett, resigned from the department last month.

The three former officers and two officers still with the department — Sgt. Philip Metzler and Sgt. Antolina Hill — are named in a federal lawsuit filed April 14 by Garner's family alleging excessive use of force and other civil rights violations. 

Metzler, Hill, and Blackett were not charged as a result of the CIRT investigation.

Metzler has been placed on paid administrative leave, per department policy. Hill is still working her normal duties, Ticer said at the April 30 news conference.

McLaughlin said the investigation looked at all the officers involved in this case, and while he said there was evidence of concerning conduct, no other officers' conduct rose to the level of criminal charges.

Public outcry: Residents march on Loveland Police Department demanding justice for Karen Garner

Garner was forcibly arrested while walking home from Walmart, where employees told police that she attempted to leave without paying for about $14 worth of items, according to the lawsuit.

During the arrest, officers dislocated Garner’s shoulder, fractured her arm, and sprained her wrist, according to the lawsuit.

'I will not stand for someone looking the other way'

McLaughlin said he first became aware of this incident when the federal lawsuit was filed mid-April. When he viewed the publicly released videos in this case, he said he was "immediately concerned with what I saw."

McLaughlin took office as district attorney on Jan. 12 and was not part of the district attorney's office when Garner was arrested in June and when the office dropped the charges against her in August. 

McLaughlin said someone in the district attorney's office at the time did view some video in the case before deciding to dismiss charges against Garner and that person remains employed by the district attorney's office. 

"I have made it very clear to everyone in my office, attorneys and otherwise that I will not stand for someone looking the other way on evidence such as that," McLaughlin said. "What the expectations were last year were not my decision."

Follow Sady Swanson on Twitter @sadyswan

Contributing: The Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Karen Garner case: Ex-officers face charges in arrest of 73-year-old Colorado woman with dementia

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