While former Loveland Police Department officer Austin Hopp’s attorney argued Thursday afternoon that his actions were determined to be acceptable by his supervisors, prosecutors argued that the video evidence of his arrest of Karen Garner is proof enough that the former officer was in the wrong.
Detectives from the Fort Collins Police Services, who led the investigation into Garner’s arrest, spoke before the judge, attorneys and those gathered in a preliminary hearing to determine if there is strong enough evidence for Hopp to face the charges placed against him, but the judge will not issue a ruling until the end of the month.
The prosecution claimed that investigation into video footage of Garner’s arrest and her treatment afterward speak loudly enough, but are made all the more poignant by what investigators found while looking at department policy and procedures.
The defense, on the other hand, claimed that Hopp’s actions were seen as acceptable and not excessive by his superiors; adding that officers are taught control holds and ways to handle suspects who are noncompliant. He also questioned why investigators would not reach out to an excessive force expert when looking into the allegations against his client.
The Larimer County District Attorney charged the 26-year-old former officer with second-degree assault causing serious bodily injury, a class 3 felony, attempt to influence a public servant, a class 4 felony; and official misconduct, a class 2 misdemeanor for his connection to the 2020 arrest of Karen Garner, a now 74-year-old woman with dementia.
Hopp turned himself in at the Larimer County Jail on May 20 the same day as Daria Jalali, the other former LPD officer who was charged in connection with Garner’s arrest. He bailed out of jail the same day, after his bond was set by magistrate Cara Boxberger at $20,000.
During the Thursday hearing, Judge Michelle Brinegar heard from detectives Kelsey Skaar and Justin Butler, both detectives with the FCPS and co-leads in the Critical Incidence Response Team investigation launched following the filing of the original civil lawsuit and national uproar.
Deputy district attorney Erica Kasemodel spent the prosecution’s time with Skaar asking her about her training and what she saw in Daria Jalali’s body camera footage regarding Hopp’s hold on Garner.
During her witness testimony, Skaar said that while she has practiced defensive tactics and secure holds in the past, as it is part of police training, what she saw Hopp do was not a common way to issue a control hold.
“(Her arm) was pretty far back there,” she said. “In defensive tactics we do that a lot, it just doesn’t seem like it would be a very comfortable or safe position.”
Skaar also said that she interviewed the man who had stopped at the scene to check on Garner. Skaar said the man had said he was concerned with her safety, thinking that Garner was actually a child because of her stature, and that he stopped because he felt it was the right thing to do.
“He was worried about the ‘little kid,’” Skaar said. “He was worried she was injured or would be injured.”
Finally, Skaar discussed her conversations with Alissa Swartz, Garner’s daughter, and the images that were taken when she returned home from the hospital.
During his cross-examination, Hopp’s attorney Jonathan Datz focused on Skaar’s training on different holds that officers are taught to use when issuing an arrest.
Datz focused on the fact that Skaar said she was trained in how to do holds and asked what type of hold she said she witnessed in Hopp’s arrest video, which she described as a variation on a rear wrist lock. Datz asked if she had ever seen or done a hold like what Hopp did, but Skaar said no.
“I have never seen one with an elbow high up on the back like that,” she responded.
During Butler’s witness testimony, assistant district attorney Matt Maillaro replayed several footage clips revolving around the Garner case, including one from the booking area where Hopp, Jalali and former community service officer Tyler Blackett reviewed the body camera footage of the arrest.
Maillaro also revisited the BlueTeam report that Hopp filed following the arrest. Butler said that, in reviewing the BlueTeam report, Hopp did not indicate that he harmed Garner or heard a pop during the arrest, but did indicate there was an unknown shoulder injury reported later.
Butler also pointed out in response to a question from Maillaro that Garner said variations of “it hurts my shoulder” or “they hurt my shoulder” approximately 14 times in Hopp’s presence.
In his cross-examination, Datz pointed out that there was a chain of people who had viewed the BlueTeam report submitted by Hopp. He pointed out the importance that Sgt. Phil Metzler, Hopp’s supervising officer who was present on the scene following the arrest, as well as Lt. Ray Butler saw the report. Neither of these men, Datz said, flagged Garner’s arrest as excessive force.
“That is relevant for probable cause, that is relevant to mental state,” Datz said.
During the cross-examination, Datz also spent time focusing on the CIRT investigation, questioning Justin Butler as to why they did not seek an excessive force expert to look at the evidence that they had.
In closing statements, Maillaro said that it is clear in watching the videos around the case that excessive force was clearly used — in the way Hopp approached Garner, to how he took hold of her to how he put her in the hold that allegedly caused her shoulder and arm injuries.
Ultimately, he argued that what Hopp did was an unreasonable response to the situation when factoring in Garner’s stature compared to Hopp’s, her misunderstanding of the situation and the nature of her “crime.” She was stopped after failing to pay for a $13.38 in items at Walmart.
“When you get to the (footage at the) car there is absolutely no question that what happened to that woman …. was unnecessary to take her into custody,” he said. “Unnecessary and unreasonable.”
Datz did not provide a closing statement.
However, when it came time to make her decision, Brinegar said while she had reviewed much of the evidence that had been submitted for the hearing, there were sections of video that she had not watched in their entirety. This included the footage of Garner being transported to the department following her arrest.
While Maillaro had no issue with this in moving forward, Datz requested that Brinegar take the time to finish the video evidence before making a decision.
Brinegar will return at 11 a.m. Aug. 30 for her ruling on the hearing.
Following the afternoon hearing, Garner’s son John Steward said that while it was difficult for him to sit in the courtroom just feet behind Hopp, he believes that justice will be served. He said he hopes that Hopp will face jail time for what he did.
“I feel like we are finally moving forward with this,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Jalali appeared in court Aug. 10 and will be returning to court at 1:45 p.m. Oct. 13. She has been charged with failure to report an excessive use of force, a class 1 misdemeanor; failure to intervene in the use of excessive force, a class 1 misdemeanor; and first-degree official misconduct, a class 2 misdemeanor.
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