73-year-old woman with dementia files civil rights lawsuit after arrest in Loveland

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LOVELAND, Colo. (KDVR) — A Loveland civil rights attorney at The Life & Liberty Law Office filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Loveland Police Department and three officers Wednesday on the behalf of a 73-year-old woman who was arrested in June of 2020.

Attorney Sarah Schielke’s lawsuit claims violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as claims against the Loveland Police Department for failing to train regarding the use of force on disabled, unarmed citizens.

“This lady is not all there,” said Schielke. “[The officer should] give it another second.”

The civil rights lawsuit stems from the arrest of 73-year-old Karen Garner on June 26, 2020 after she was accused of stealing from a nearby Walmart.

In the body camera footage, Officer Austin 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?” asked Hopp.

“I’m going home,” Garner responded repeatedly.

Within a few seconds, she is on the ground being handcuffed and moments later a second officer arrives on scene.

Garner is walked to the patrol car in cuffs, repeatedly saying, “I’m going home.” Both officers take Garner out of the patrol vehicle, put her on the ground, and proceed to use restraints to tie her feet together.

“It looks bad … you’re a big guy … you’re taking a little old lady down to the ground,” said former Denver police Lt. James Ponzi.

Ponzi is a 35-year veteran of law enforcement. He said that while the optics are bad, he doesn’t fault the officer for using force to control the situation.

“She’s an elderly lady,” he said. “It was a minor charge, but at that point you can’t just go get back in your car and drive off.”

The lawsuit states that medical attention was not offered to Garner, despite her allegedly repeated complaints of pain.

“Despite the visible dislocation of her arm from her shoulder, and Ms. Garner’s repeated complaints of pain while on scene and in the several hours she remained in their care and control that followed, none of the defendant officers nor anyone else at the Loveland Police Department ever sought medical care for Ms. Garner, in violation of Loveland Police’s written policies regarding use of force and injuries.”

“No one ever obtained mental health assistance for the observably mentally disabled Ms. Garner. Instead, the officers handcuffed her to a cell at the station for over 2 hours, keeping her isolated and terrified, in extreme pain, and then deposited her at the Larimer County jail where they lied and said she was uninjured, which ensured she continued to not receive medical treatment for another 3 hours. By the time jail deputies realized Ms. Garner was in fact injured and transported her to the ER, her arm looked like this.”

THE LIFE & LIBERTY LAW OFFICE OF SARAH SCHIELKE

Garner suffered a dislocated shoulder and a fractured wrist, according to her attorney.

Garner was arrested for leaving Walmart and forgetting to pay for $13.88 worth of items, but her attorney says she didn’t leave the store with the items. Medical experts say it’s not uncommon for people with dementia to unwittingly shoplift or attempt to shoplift.

“We stopped Ms. Garner after noticing her attempt to take merchandise from the store without paying for it. When we addressed this issue directly with her the situation escalated when she forcibly removed an associate’s facemask and fled the store. The police were called only after Ms. Garner became physical with an associate,” a spokesperson from Walmart told FOX31.

“Nearly 20% of all adults of Ms. Garner’s age or more are suffering from some form of dementia,” shared Garner’s attorney.

All charges against Garner were dropped.

Garner is now in a full-time care facility. Schielke said Garner’s adult children were unaware their mom was sneaking away to Walmart.

In a statement Thursday, the Loveland Police Department said it was not aware of Garner’s injuries until the lawsuit was filed more than nine months after the incident. The arresting officer has been placed on leave.

Full Loveland Police Department statement:

“Loveland Police became aware late Wednesday, April 14, of details contained in a federal lawsuit alleging excessive use of force and serious bodily injury during the arrest of a Loveland resident in connection with a shoplifting incident.

“The information reached LPD through an edited body-worn camera video posted on the department’s Facebook page. The department has undertaken an investigation of the June 26, 2020, incident that will include the examination of all images, documents and records compiled in connection with the event.

“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.

“LPD had not previously received a complaint regarding serious injuries to Karen Garner, and learned only on April 14 of the allegations surrounding her arrest. The arresting officer in the case has been placed on administrative leave pending the investigation’s outcome. An officer who assisted in the arrest and the on-scene supervisor have been reassigned to administrative duties.

“The investigation of the event will include an examination of the actions of all officers who may have been involved.”

On Thursday afternoon, the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office said it shares the public’s concern regarding Garner’s arrest.

“Ms. Garner’s misdemeanor case was dismissed by the previous administration. The current administration has not previously had the opportunity to review this incident and no investigation regarding any improper use of force has been presented to our office,” a statement from the district attorney’s office said.

“The District Attorney’s office is processing the information we have and will continue to review facts as they are provided. Our office is committed to fair and professional reviews of alleged excessive use of force. After further review, the District Attorney’s Office will consider whether an independent criminal investigation is warranted,” the statement said.

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