On June 26, 2020, Officer Austin Hopp of the Loveland Police Department (LPD) approached Karen Garner as she walked alongside a road in a suburb of Denver picking wildflowers, and demanded she stop. When Garner lifted both hands,shook her head in a gesture of incomprehension, and turned to continue walking, Hopp grabbed her wrists and shoved her to the ground.
Garner was 73 years old, five feet tall, and eighty pounds. When Hopp attacked her, she began saying “I’m going home,” repeatedly. Hopp began a lengthy and violent process of pushing her around and twisting her arms behind her back.
Garner, who is white, suffers from dementia, which interferes with memory and awareness, and sensory aphasia, which interferes with speaking and understanding the speech of others. A Walmart called the cops on her after employees confronted her for taking items worth $14 out of the store without paying. She was arrested while walking home.
This brutality was exposed on April 14, 2021 when her family filed a lawsuit with lawyer Sarah Schielke, who released footage from Hopp’s body camera along with other evidence. This was publicized by the Loveland Reporter-Herald and subsequently by national media.
After shoving Garner to the ground a second time and handcuffing her wrists behind her back, Hopp said that there had been a “short struggle.” He forced Garner to his squad car and bent her torso over the hood, pushing her elbow and wrist. A second cop, Daria Jalali, arrived and also grabbed Garner’s cuffed arms. As Garner continued to beg, reasserting that she was simply trying to go home, she attempted to stand upright.
In response, the cops slammed her down onto the squad car, with Hopp applying upward force to her twisted arm. He dislocated Garner’s shoulder and broke her arm. Garner also suffered a sprained wrist and a bloody nose. Yet the LPD denied that she was injured and refused her medical care.
Garner called out in pain and collapsed. Jalali shouted, “We’re not going to hold you!” and Hopp dropped her onto the ground asking, “Why are you doin’ this?” Jalali said “Quit!” repeatedly, accusing her of resisting arrest.
A passing driver stopped and asked, “Do you have to use that much aggression?” Hopp responded, “What are you doin’? Get out of here. This is not your business.” After the witness asked to make a complaint to his sergeant, Hopp retorted that the arrested person had shoplifted and disobeyed police orders. “This is what happens when you fight the police. I have to use force to safely detain her.”
Hopp and Jelali took Garner out of the squad car they had pushed her into and hog-tied her by strapping her ankles together. Hopp again accused her of resisting arrest, and Jelani knelt on Garner’s hip while holding her down on the ground. Sergeant Phil Metzler arrived, and all three cops lifted her but then dropped her on the ground.
Four cops responded to this arrest of an elderly person for allegedly shoplifting $14 in soda, candy, wipes, and a T-shirt. When Sergeant Metzler was told the arrest involved “struggle,” he asked, “She been drinkin’ or something?” He then commented that there was mud on Hopp, whereupon Jalali joked, “A little bloody, a little muddy, that’s how it works!” and she and Hopp confirmed that the blood came from Garner.
The cops then dismissed the passerby who tried to make an excessive force complaint. Sergeant Metzler is seen and heard on Hopp’s body camera lecturing the witness that there was no police misconduct (prior to his own arrival) and chastising him, saying “You inserted yourself into the situation.” Observing their sergeant silencing the witness, Hopp said to Jalali, “Good old Metzler.” The sergeant had his own body camera switched off during the incident. As the three remaining cops left the scene, the sergeant agreed with Hopp’s claim that Garner “resisted and obstructed.”
When the cops arrived at their station, Hopp told Officer Tyler Blackett, “She’s a frail little thing, but she’s riley.” Hopp, Jalali, and Blackett then lifted her hog-tied body off the ground, including by her broken and dislocated arm. They carried her into a cell where they chained her cuffed wrists behind her back to a fixed ring on a bench so that she couldn’t move. While they ignored Garner’s cries of pain, Hopp asked his partners after chaining up the 80 pound 73-year-old woman, “Everybody okay? Anybody get kicked or hit?”
The cops held Garner chained up in their station for over two hours before transferring her to the county jail. They wrote in their report to the sheriff’s department that she had no injuries. Six hours after Hopp broke her arm, a jail deputy took her to the hospital where she was treated, yet neither the hospital nor the sheriff’s department made any official complaint after her broken arm and dislocated shoulder were examined.
In late April, 2021, Garner’s lawyer released a second video from a camera inside the police station. It shows that while they had Garner chained up, Hopp fist-bumped Jalali and said, “I think it went great … I think we crushed it.” He went on to say, “I can’t believe I threw a 73-year-old on the ground.” Hopp says to Jalali that the arrest will presumably be referred to “Blue Team,” a bureaucratic internal computer records system for reviewing use of force.
Hopp, Jalali, and Blackett then huddled together to watch the body cam video of the arrest. Jalali and Blackett said they enjoy watching body camera videos as entertainment. Hopp then told his cop buddies watching the recording, “Ready for the pop? Hear the pop? … I think it was her shoulder.” While Jalali expressed discomfort, Hopp said, “This is great,” and Blackett said, “I love it,” while watching the assault. Blackett then fist-bumped Hopp while watching him intimidate the witness who stopped to object. Jalali entered Garner’s cell and said she was complaining of pain. Hopp and Jalali both shrugged. Jalali then told the other cops the arrest was “Blue Teamable” because they injured Garner, but Hopp dismissed this, saying that there were no pictures of injuries. Over and over, Hopp and Blackett laughed while watching the violence against Garner.
What does “investigation” mean?
Garner’s lawyer has forcefully rejected the argument that this crime by the Loveland Police Department was simply the action of one “bad apple.” Schielke has also denounced promises of “investigation” by local authorities without direct action against all guilty officers as a way of evading the facts. She has rightly called out the police department itself for promoting abuse and demanded the resignation or firing of LPD chief Bob Ticer, which the city government has refused.
Chief Ticer immediately lied about the incident when the lawsuit was filed in an attempt to manage public reaction. He told the press that the LPD had not previously looked into this assault because, “Nobody along the last nine months called the police department and said, ‘the person you arrested had these injuries,’ until we find out now. I am very disappointed that we did not know that immediately.” He then promised to be “transparent,” while declaring, “We understand there is a fracture in public trust right now, we have got to get that back.”
Authorities have declared that this assault will be “investigated.” First, the LPD declared it would investigate itself. After several days, another “investigation” was handed to the Larimer County prosecutor to spearhead. The county prosecutor ordered it to be run by the Fort Collins, Colorado police department. And the city of Loveland has announced that it will pay for an “independent investigation” by a “third party” — its own state government insurance agency. Thus there are three “investigations” promised by cops and state bureaucrats to find out if cops did anything criminal to Karen Garner!
Two weeks after release of the first video and following release of the second video showing them watching and laughing, Hopp, Jalali and Blackett resigned from the police force. They were not fired and chose to resign. However, Sergeant Metzler, the supervisor who repeatedly covered up the assault, remains on the LPD payroll. Garner’s family responded publicly that they believed the police chief is “endeavoring to protect only himself and the reputation of the LPD.”
Why is it that Colorado authorities can send four armed cops within minutes to arrest an elderly, mentally disabled person accused of petty theft from Walmart, but they seem unable to order the arrest of Officers Hopp, Jalali, Metzler, or Blackett for aggravated assault and falsifying police reports? How long does it take to “investigate” videos that clearly show one cop breaking an elderly woman’s arm while a second cop helps, a supervisor ignoring blood from the victim’s face and refusing to take a complaint from a witness, and another cop helping to lift Garner and chain her to a bench with her broken arm?
Garner’s brutalization occurred one month after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Loveland cops did this during the largest protests in U.S. history against racist police violence. It is noteworthy that one thing was the same in the murder of Floyd and the assault of Garner. One cop committed the most severe single act of violence — Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis and Hopp in Loveland. But in both cases, the cops who attacked innocent and defenseless individuals showed complete confidence that their fellow officers would happily assist them, that their immediate supervisors would not question their actions, and that the system would not be inclined to do anything about their crimes.
The wearing of body cameras and internal reform of the police by the police themselves were what the Obama administration called for after the Ferguson Black Lives Matter uprising in 2014. Yet in 2020, we find police actually sitting around and openly saying that they find watching their own body camera videos of brutalizing people entertaining.
The assault against Karen Garner happened because police are employed to protect private property. A vast amount of money and armed force was immediately dedicated to protecting Walmart from a miniscule, already prevented “theft” by a confused person. Police do not exist to “serve or protect” anyone but capital.
Police derive well paid, secure, easy and privileged jobs from being part of this system. Within that system, they are trained by their actual work to treat all working class and poor people as the potential enemy, starting by primarily targeting Black and Brown people. Sadistic behavior in this system is not an aberration but a natural product of standard operation. The police also have a major pattern of assaulting and murdering mentally ill, disabled, and/or neurodivergent people. They are not workers and do not belong in labor unions.
Police brutality is built around their role in the mill of racist mass incarceration, in which one of every 50 Black men in the United States is serving a prison sentence of over one year at any moment. However, it is clear that police violence and oppression also, though to a lesser extent, hit a large section of lower income white workers and vulnerable people. White workers need to join in action to abolish the police both in order to support the just demands of people of color and mobilize a united labor movement, and to create a safe and free society for themselves.
The biggest lesson from Loveland is this: in June of 2020, Republican and Democratic state and local officials across the United States were demanding that Black Lives Matter protesters obey all curfews and police orders and insisting that police violence and racism were relatively small problems — deviations from the norm. Democrats universally demanded that people in the streets respect the law, saying that the state would punish the few bad cops and reform the police without any attacks on the system. At that very time, the Loveland Police Department was breaking a 73-year-old, mentally disabled (white) woman’s arm for the same “crime” George Floyd was accused of: shoplifting.
This system says to us thousands of times, “We will begin an investigation.” But these “investigations” of the police by other cops, prosecutors, and government officials are not about seeking information or taking action against police crimes. They are slow, arbitrary, and utterly dishonest processes in which authorities, after being trapped in scandal because of the breakdown of a cover-up of a police crime, identify the bare minimum they can tactically concede to public outrage, while in general defending and maintaining police forces. This is clear when we consider the actual investigation procedure of criminal cops. In other words, how much evidence has to be shown and how much respect are they given before they get punished — in comparison to the “investigation,” brutalization, bullshit trials, and incarceration of untold numbers of Black, Latinx, working class, poor, and vulnerable people in the U.S. “law enforcement” system?