Idaho Springs Police Sued Over Violent Arrest Of Unarmed 75-Year-Old

Screenshot from YouTube
A screenshot from Idaho Springs police officer body camera footage. Michael Clark, 75, was tased without warning from police. Former officer Nicholas Hanning has been sentenced to probation.

Updated July 27, 2021 at 11:12 a.m.

Michael Clark was released from a nursing facility Monday evening, following treatment for injuries sustained after a forceful arrest by Idaho Springs Police. According to his attorney, he still requires around-the-clock care and cannot walk unassisted. Doctors are evaluating his condition to decide whether he will need heart surgery.

Clark spoke publicly for the first time since his arrest in a pre-recorded interview released by his attorney. He appeared in a wheelchair, appearing slightly disoriented, even misspelling his first name. 

“[The officers’] actions were totally and completely inconsiderate of my civil rights,” Clark said in the video.

Clark said that, because of the medical issues caused by the arrest, he might have to move from his home in Idaho Springs because “lesser oxygen” at altitude may cause breathing problems for him.

Michael Clark, the 75-year-old Idaho Springs man sent to the hospital after being tased without warning by police, is suing the Idaho Springs Police Department for a civil rights violation.

The federal lawsuit also names the two officers who forcefully arrested him, Nicholas Hanning and Ellie Summers, and their supervisor, Cpl. Richard Sonnenberg, as defendants. It alleges the Idaho Springs Police Department failed to adequately train and supervise its officers. 

“These officers committed assault, burglary and kidnapping on Mr. Clark. It’s all on video,” Clark’s lawyer, Sarah Schielke, said in a press release.

Clark’s arrest occurred on May 30, after a neighbor called the police claiming he had hit her after a dispute over noise. Schielke said Clark did not leave his apartment or hit the woman but did bang on his wall when she was being loud that night.

Body camera footage from the incident shows uniformed officers knocking on Clark’s door without announcing they are police. Clark opens the door, holding a collectible sword, which the lawsuit states was “made from the bill of a sawfish.” A brief physical encounter followed that was not fully captured on video. 

In the footage, Hanning pulls out his taser and commands Clark to put down the sword. Once Clark does, the officer then orders him to leave the apartment, at the same time the second officer yells at him to lie down. When Clark refuses to follow commands, Hanning fires the taser at Clark without warning. 

Clark was sent to the hospital after the encounter. The lawsuit alleges Clark sustained major injuries from the tasing. 

“Mr. Clark lost consciousness and flew backwards from the tasing, striking his head on a dining room chair on the way down. His head was split open and bleeding,” the lawsuit read. “They handcuffed him on the ground. He laid there, non-responsive, for 2 minutes and 23 seconds.”

The lawsuit claims Clark remains in a 24-hour nursing facility awaiting heart surgery and has not been able to return home since the incident.

Hanning has since been fired from the Idaho Springs Police Department and arrested in connection with the incident. He faces one charge of third-degree assault on an at-risk adult, a class 6 felony. If convicted, he could face up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. 

The lawsuit accuses the Idaho Springs police department of failing to train its officers on de-escalation techniques, how to interact with older adults and the legal protections offered to someone while they are inside their own home. It asks for monetary damages and a written apology from the officers named in the suit, as well as policy changes and mandatory training to prevent similar incidents in the future. 

In a separate development, Clark’s lawyer, Schielke, is now in legal trouble for the case too. Fox31 reports that after she sent out the body camera footage last week, including an edited version and a written commentary, the local district attorney and Hanning’s defense lawyer objected, arguing she violated the court’s order against pre-trial publicity. An evidentiary hearing on the contempt charge is scheduled for Aug. 12.

CPR’s Megan Verlee contributed to this report.