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Littwin: We can add to our list of excessive use-of-force victims an 80-pound, 73-year-old flower picker in Loveland

Police-cam video shows Karen Garner, who has dementia, suffering a broken arm and dislocated shoulder while being arrested. More video shows Loveland cops laughing about it.

There are very few unarmed Black people to hassle or worse in Loveland — or, for that matter, very few Black people of any description in Loveland — so the cops there have to make do with what is available to them.

In this case, they didn’t shoot anyone. They didn’t kill anyone. Instead, one of them threw an 80-pound, 73-year-old woman to the ground as she was aggressively, uh, picking wildflowers. Officer Austin Hopp, responding first to a call of a $13.88 shoplifting at a nearby Walmart, asked Karen Garner to stop, and when she kept walking, jumped on her, violently twisted her arm as if he were fighting an aggressive would-be criminal who was putting someone’s life in danger. He was joined by other cops because, well, she was resisting arrest. I’m surprised they didn’t call in the SWAT team. Or the National Guard.

Mike Littwin

Garner kept saying she was going home. In any kind of just world, that’s exactly where she would have been going, and not to a jail cell and eventually to a hospital. The charges against her would be dropped, of course. And it’s the cops who are being investigated — Hopp is one of four who have been suspended — and should, again with any justice, find themselves charged.

It’s all there on the police body-cams. It’s so outrageous that it has become a worldwide story of callous cops, of clearly unnecessary use of force, of a failure to meet Karen Garner’s medical needs, of cops ignoring training — assuming they had any — in their use of force, of cops laughing and fist-bumping in the aftermath of the arrest, of a failure to make one of maybe two dozen other less confrontational choices, including, just a thought here, walking or driving Garner to her nearby home.

This is George Floyd’s counterfeit $20 bill story writ small. This is another insight into the massive police reform that is needed across the country. When they talk about defunding the police, they don’t mean defunding the police. They mean switching funds to have people trained to understand what should have been done in the case of someone like Garner.

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Instead, we hear Hopp advising other officers to wait for the “pop.” The pop, Hopp would say, sounded like a dislocated shoulder. Hopp said it to fellow officers on the scene after making the violent arrest. He said it again while watching the video of the violent arrest. He apparently found the injury, well, something to brag about. I’m not saying that makes him a sociopath. I will say, though, that any sociopath would be proud to be in his company.

To the untrained eye, and presumably to the trained one, Garner was scared, confused, unresponsive, possibly suffering from dementia or some related condition. It was pretty obvious she had no idea why she was being arrested, much less why she was being thrown to the ground, much less why she was being hogtied, much less why she was taken to the police station, much less why she ended up in jail.

According to a recent lawsuit, her family says Garner does have dementia. Months after the arrest in June of last year, when she could still live semi-independently, she is now in an assisted-living home and still — again, according to the lawsuit — severely traumatized by the experience. Let me just say that many of us would be traumatized by such an experience. Some of you will be traumatized just watching the videos.

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The cops broke Garner’s arm. They dislocated a shoulder. They tackled her. They pushed her up against a police car. There’s a photo in the lawsuit showing the deep bruising. After booking the big case — you can watch the booking, too, if you have the stomach for it — the cops dump her in a cell, keep her handcuffed, don’t bother to call for medical help even though they know she was injured (she was first treated six hours after the arrest), don’t try to contact her family, don’t even read Garner her Miranda rights.

The station-surveillance video of the cops watching the body-cam video is nearly as disturbing as the violent arrest itself. One of the arresting cops didn’t want to watch. Watching the videos won’t make you laugh — they might make you cry — but they did seem to crack up Hopp. After watching the footage of the arrest for several minutes, Daria Jalal, who assisted in the arrest, is seen covering her face and saying, “I hate this,” to which Hopp responds, laughing, “This is awesome.” Another cop adds, “I love it.”

Summing it all up, one of the officers concludes: “We crushed it.” Yes, they crushed an 80-pound woman with dementia. 

How did we get to this point? Garner had left Walmart without paying for goods amounting to under $14. She was caught because — this is a guess — she had forgotten to pay, which often happens to people with dementia. It’s a symptom, for God’s sake. 

When she was caught leaving the store, she offered to pay for the goods, but Walmart employees refused and confiscated them. And according to Walmart employees, Garner apparently tussled with an employee and pulled off the employee’s COVID mask.

So they called the cops. Yes, they did. And if you no longer feel the need to shop at that particular Walmart, I’d be surprised if you’re the only one.

Meanwhile, back at the station, Hopp was saying Garner is the first person he had arrested on whom he used a hobble restraint. I think it’s fair to say she may be one of the few 80-pound, 73-year-old, wildflower-picking dementia patients who has ever been subjected to a hobble restraint.

“I was super excited,” Hopp is heard saying on video. “I was like, ‘All right, let’s wrestle, girl. Let’s wreck it!’ I got her on the ground and all that stuff. I got her cuffed up … threw her on the ground a couple of times.”

He added this: “I can’t believe I threw a 73-year-old on the ground.”

If I hadn’t seen it on video, I might not have believed it, either. But as the prosecutors in the George Floyd case argued, all you have to do is to trust your eyes to know the truth. And we should add, I think, that you should trust your heart as well. 


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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