Sady Swanson and Rebecca Powell, Fort Collins Coloradoan
May 1, 2021
FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Three police officers involved in the arrest and detention of 73-year-old Karen Garner, who has dementia, last summer have resigned, Loveland police officials announced Friday.
Officers Austin Hopp, Daria Jalali and community service officer Tyler Blackett are “no longer employed with the Loveland Police Department,” Chief Robert Ticer announced in a press conference.
Ticer declined to specify whether the officers resigned or were terminated. Department spokesperson Tom Hacker later told the Coloradoan, part of the USA TODAY Network, the three officers resigned. Loveland is about 50 miles north of Denver.
The announcement comes about two weeks after a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed by attorney Sarah Schielke on behalf of Garner and her family alleging officers used excessive force and violated Garner’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit also accuses the Loveland Police Department of failing to train their officers on interacting with residents with disabilities.
In addition to the three former officers, Sgt. Philip Metzler and Sgt. Antolina Hill are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Metzler, who also responded to the scene of Garner’s arrest and was Hopp’s supervisor, has been placed on administrative leave. Hill, who is accused of knowing about Garner’s injuries but did not intervene, is continuing to work her regular duty assignment, Ticer said.
Ticer recognized the “outpouring of concerns” they’ve heard locally and internationally regarding Garner’s arrest and detention. “Our goal as the Loveland Police Department is to make our community proud,” Ticer said. “We failed, and we are sorry.”
Ticer said Friday he was not aware of the allegations that Garner was seriously injured during the June 26 arrest until the federal lawsuit was filed April 14.
In Hopp’s body camera footage, released to the public by Schielke, Hopp is seen pushing Garner to the ground within seconds of approaching her after she was accused of leaving Walmart without paying for $13.88 worth of merchandise. Garner was stopped by staff before leaving with the items.
Jalali arrives on scene shortly after, as does Metzler, and they are seen in the video assisting Hopp in forcibly detaining Garner. During the arrest, officers dislocated Garner’s shoulder, fractured her arm and sprained her wrist, according to the lawsuit.
Garner has dementia and sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to communicate and understand others, according to her family.
Video from inside the Loveland Police Department also released by Schielke shows Hopp, Jalali and Blackett laughing and talking about the arrest while watching Hopp’s body camera footage together as Garner sits handcuffed in a holding cell nearby.
Hopp can be heard in the video asking Jalali if she heard Garner’s arm pop during the arrest. At another point in the video, Hopp says, “I can’t believe I threw a 73-year-old woman on the ground.”
The lawsuit claims Hill also entered the booking area and knew Garner was injured but did not help her.
“What you saw in the video is not the Loveland Police Department,” Ticer said of his personal feelings watching those videos. “It hurt to see that. I’ve been in law enforcement for 32 years and it hurt to see that.”
Schielke criticized Ticer’s statement that the behavior in the videos do not reflect the Loveland Police Department.
“He is wrong. This is the Loveland Police Department. And it is his Loveland Police Department,” Schielke said in a news release Friday afternoon. “He is responsible for what happens in it.”
Schielke said Ticer’s decision not to resign and the city manager’s decision not to fire him “proves that LPD’s leadership and toxic culture problems are just as bad as we suspected when we saw the very first video, if not worse.”
In a statement from Garner’s family in the news release, they said they were disappointed by Ticer’s comments and actions, calling his statement an effort “to protect only himself and the reputation of the LPD.”
“(J)ust like on June 26, 2020, the inhumane treatment of our mother was ignored and his continued support of the department was the focus,” the family’s statement said. “He said that our mother’s case has ‘hurt him personally.’ It is clear that the only thing that has ‘hurt him personally’ has been the attention this case has brought to his department. Not what happened to our mother.”
Eighth Judicial District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin launched a criminal investigation, led by Fort Collins Police Services, to determine if any laws were violated. After the Critical Incident Response Team investigation, Ticer has said the department will work with the city’s human resources department and a third-party investigator to conduct an internal affairs investigation to determine if any officers involved violated department policies.