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Crime and Courts

Woman with dementia arrested over $14 theft sues Loveland Police Department

Karen Garner's lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims that no one sought medical help for her until about six hours after she was arrested

By Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press

A 73-year-old woman with dementia is suing a Colorado city and members of its police department after she suffered a dislocated shoulder and bruises last year while being arrested after leaving a store without paying for about $14 worth of items.

Police body camera video included as part of the federal lawsuit Karen Garner filed Wednesday against the city of Loveland and three of its police officers show an officer approaching her as she walked through a field along a road last summer where she had been picking wildflowers.

She shrugs with her arms outstretched when he questions why she did not stop despite him following her in a patrol car with his lights and sirens on, the video shows.

When she then turns her back to him and starts walking away, the video shows the officer quickly grab one of her arms, puts it behind her back and pushes her 80-pound (36-kilogram) body to the ground and puts her in handcuffs as she looks confused and repeatedly says “I am going home.”

She initially holds on to the flowers in her restrained hands behind her back, the video shows.

When the video shows her questioning what is happening, the officer says “I told you to stop. You don’t get to act this way.”

The footage later shows Garner being held against the hood of the patrol car with her left arm bent up next to her head.

The officer implies in the video that she is trying to kick him but her legs are not visible. Soon she starts to slide down toward the ground and the video shows another officer who had recently arrived yelling: “Stand up! We’re not going to hold you!”

According to the lawsuit, Walmart employees asked Garner to return to the store when they saw her leave without paying and took the items back — a soda, a candy bar, a T-shirt, and some wipe refills, denying her request to pay for the items.

Someone from Walmart then called police to report Garner and the direction she walking but said the store had not suffered a loss, the lawsuit said.

A spokesman for Loveland police, Tom Hacker, said police were working on a response to the lawsuit. The Loveland city attorney’s office referred questions to police.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims that no one sought medical help for Garner until about six hours after she was arrested, when a deputy in the jail noticed she needed help.

The lawsuit claims the arrest violated her constitutional protections against excessive force and to have due process and also violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the lawsuit, forgetting to pay for items in stores is common among those with dementia. It also said Garner suffers from sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to communicate and understand what other people are saying.

In addition to her physical injuries, the lawsuit claims Garner now experiences fear, trauma and anxiety whenever she leaves her home.

“What little freedom and happiness Ms. Garner enjoyed in her life as an elderly adult with declining mental health was, on June 26, 2020, recklessly and deliberately obliterated by the Loveland Police Department,” it said.

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