Police breaking the bones of a demented, 80-pound woman is not “concerning.” It’s craven.
I wonder what my grandfather would have done if he had entered the booking room of the Loveland, Colorado, Police Department on June 26 one year ago. I suspect he might have confronted Officer Hopp and “knocked his teeth down his throat,” as he used to say. He might have picked Hopp up by belt and collar, carried him to the door, and thrown him through it. Then returned for a cowering Officer Blacklett.
My grandfather was a lieutenant of police in San Francisco. He joined the force in 1917 and cut his teeth walking a night beat in Chinatown during the Tong Wars. Before that he was a blacksmith, and by god he didn’t suffer fools. Certainly not the strutting bullies who were laughing just then over having brutalized a mentally compromised 73-year-old lady who weighed 80 pounds!
This time last year, Karen Garner was a smiling grandmotherly lady barely five feet tall. She had dementia and sensory aphasia, which meant she couldn’t understand well either spoken or written words. But she was able to live fairly independently in a condo near her daughter, gardening, and walking daily to the store for a soda.
On this day, she’d selected a few things from Walmart and left, forgetting to pay. When employees stopped her, she offered to pay the $13. But the clerks refused, took back the merchandise, and called the police. Meanwhile Karen slipped away and strolled home, picking wildflowers.
She was beside a green field, carrying a bouquet, when Officer Austin Hopp pulled up. Body camera footage shows he demanded she stop, and she did. But she shook her head and raised her arms, palms up, in a gesture of total, wordless confusion.
As she turned to walk away, Hopp, a beefy 26-year-old, grabbed her arm, jerked her backwards, and threw her to the ground. A photograph taken later would show extensive blue and purple bruising. Karen pleaded, “I’m going home. I’m going home.” (She would repeat this phrase, mechanically, 37 more times.)
With her face in the dirt, Hopp wrenched Karen’s arms behind her. Perhaps it was this violent move that broke Karen’s arm. Or maybe it happened a little later when
Hopp pushed her over the hood of the patrol car and, punishing her for struggling, shoved her elbow so far up her back that he dislocated the old woman’s shoulder.
That’s when Officer Daria Jalali arrived. She didn’t see a frail woman, bleeding from the tight handcuffs, with a sprained wrist, a broken arm, and a dislocated shoulder. She did not suggest that any continued use of force was, surely by now, unnecessary. She took hold of Karen’s other arm and pressed it up her back. And when Karen went limp, likely from pain, Jalali yelled at her, “Stand up! We’re not going to hold you!”
Sergeant Philip Metzler pulled up as Karen was being hobbled. In the video footage, he takes a business-as-usual attitude, ribbing Hopp, “You’re a little muddy, dude.” Jalali, wanting in on the macho self-congratulation, replies, grinning, “A little bloody, a little muddy. That’s how it works.”
At the station, surveillance footage picks up the story. Hopp, Jalail, and Officer Blackett carry Karen (by her broken arm), to a cell and lock her cuffs to a bench. In the adjacent booking room, Hoppe and Jalail fist bump as Hopp recounts his bravery. “I threw her on the ground a couple of times.” And, “I was like, alright girl, let’s wrestle!” “I think we crushed it!” “Did you hear the pop? I was pushing, pushing, pushing. I hear POP!”
The three officers gather around to watch and laugh at the body cam footage.
As Hopp dislocates Karen’s shoulder, Jalail says, “I hate this.” Hopp counters, “This is great.” “I love it,” adds a nakedly sadistic Blacklett.
Meanwhile, they ignore Karen’s repeated pleas that she is in pain, and do not seek medical attention for the next six hours.
Karen Garner lost most of the connection she had with the world that day. Family members weep as they describe her now, recoiling from their hugs.
Ten months later, upon the release of the video, when Loveland’s police chief says he “shares the community’s concerns,” and when the district attorney finds the video “very concerning,” they are not finding the right words.
Because what happened to Karen Garner is not “concerning,” it is horrifying. It is criminal. It is the despicable cowardice of pathetic wannabes. And all over this country, any cop or chief who doesn’t get the difference should be emphatically shown the door.
Dan O’Neill is the author of The Firecracker Boys, which is an expose that deals with social injustice. He has previously written in these pages on the need for police reform.