Former Colorado officer pleads guilty to assaulting woman with dementia

A former Colorado cop faces up to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to assaulting a woman with dementia while arresting her on suspicion of stealing $13 worth of items from a Walmart.

Austin Hopp, formerly of the Loveland Police Department, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to second-degree assault in the case of Karen Garner, now 75, who was injured after being pinned down during a an arrest in 2020, court officials confirmed.

The plea agreement leaves sentencing in the hands of Judge C. Michelle Brinegar of the Larimer County District Court. According to a lawyer for Ms Garner, Mr Hopp faces two to eight years in prison on the mid-level felony charge. A sentencing hearing for Mr. Hopp, who now lives in Florida, is scheduled for May 5.

The plea deal that Mr. Hopp took was a waiver of the de facto exception, meaning that the facts of the case bear no relation to the crime to which he pleads guilty, according to Sarah Schielke, Ms Garner’s lawyer.

Jonathan Datz, who is listed as an attorney for Mr. Hopp, could not immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Chief Robert L. Ticer of the Loveland Police Department called Ms Garner’s arrest ‘deplorable’, saying it was ‘a stark reminder that no police officer is above the law, it’s is why Austin Hopp is no longer associated with our department.”

Larimer County District Court officials say Mr. Hopp pleaded guilty to second-degree assault on strangulation, even though there is no evidence that Mr. Hopp attempted to strangle Ms. Garner . According to Ms Schielke, the plea helps Mr Hopp avoid the minimum 10 to 32 years in prison he would have been sentenced to if convicted at trial. She said he was originally charged with second-degree assault on a high-risk person, which under Colorado law carries a mandatory jail sentence.

The main effect of the plea agreement, Ms. Schielke explained, is to remove the requirement for a prison sentence, giving the judge the option of probation.

“If the judge grants him probation at sentencing, of course it will be a total travesty,” Ms Schielke said. “If the judge sentences him to jail, then there will be some measure of justice, especially given the interest in deterring other police officers from abusing their power and harming civilians.”

Police body camera footage released last spring by Ms Schielke shows an officer grabbing Ms Garner on June 26, 2020 and throwing her to the ground. She was walking home from a nearby Walmart, where employees called police because they said she walked out without paying for $13.88 worth of items.

Ms Garner, who suffers from dementia and sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to understand and communicate, forgot to pay for the items, according to her lawyer. A lawsuit filed last April against the town of Loveland said officers who arrested Ms Garner broke a bone in her arm and dislocated her shoulder and she had not received medical treatment since six o’clock.

Another video, also posted by Ms Garner’s lawyer last spring, showed officers laughing at footage of Ms Garner’s arrest. “I love it,” said an officer. “It’s good.”

The two officers who arrested Ms Garner, as well as a community services officer who arrested her and who is accused of denying her medical attention, resigned in April last year. Mr. Hopp was one of two officers who faced criminal charges. The second was Daria Jalali, who was charged with failing to intervene or report excessive force, Colorado prosecutors said in May. Ms Jalali is scheduled for a deposition hearing on April 26.

In September, Loveland agreed to pay Ms. Garner $3 million to settle her lawsuit against the city.

The hope we have right now is that the degree of public scrutiny in this case and the horrific underlying facts of the case lead the judge to do the right thing in sentencing and give a considerable prison sentence,” Ms. Schielke said.

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