A former Idaho Springs officer who pleaded guilty to assaulting an elderly man at his home in May was sentenced to two years of probation Thursday.
Nicholas Hanning will also complete 120 days of electronic home monitoring and 150 hours of community service as part of the sentence, according to the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
The case stems from a May 30, 2021 incident involving Hanning and one other officer, who hasn’t been charged.
Hanning knocked on Michael Clark’s door after a neighbor called 911, claiming Clark, who is 75-years-old, punched someone in the face during a disagreement, according to a July 2021 arrest affidavit. Body camera footage shows Clark answered the door holding an object officers believed was a machete.
After a brief exchange, Clark dropped the item. The officers ordered Clark to exit his apartment and “get down,” but Clark refused, saying he didn’t understand why police were detaining him.
Without any warning, Hanning used a taser on Clark as he stood in the doorway of his apartment. The 75-year-old fell backward and hit his head on a chair, video shows.
The electric shock and resulting fall left Clark with serious injuries to his mental cognition and motor skills, which he will likely never recover from, according to Sarah Schielke, an attorney representing Clark and his family. The retiree regularly volunteered in the community and spent time recreating outdoors prior to the assault.
“He can sit up unassisted now, but that’s the metric we’re dealing with,” Shielke said. “Because of what this officer did, he’s completely dependent and can never do the things that made him happy again.”
Hanning was charged with assault and fired from his job at the police department in July 2021. The Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training board also stripped him of his certification.
He pleaded guilty on Dec. 9. His former partner, Ellie Summers, resigned in October. Clark never faced charges related to the initial 911 call.
During Thursday’s sentencing hearing in Clear Creek County, Hanning apologized to Clark’s family.
“I tarnished the badge I once wore,” he said.
In a statement, Heidi McCollum, the 5th judicial district attorney, said she accepted the judge’s sentence in the case.
“While we understand that law enforcement officers have difficult jobs to do, Mr. Hanning made a reckless decision, and the wrong decision to deploy his taser on Mr. Clark, causing him and his family so much pain and suffering over the last eight months,” McCollum said. “Like Hanning, any police officer who uses excessive force on another person without legitimate justification for doing so, should absolutely lose their certification and be barred from working in law enforcement again.”
Schielke, the family’s attorney, called the outcome a “slap in the face” and another example of how police officers get preferential treatment in the justice system. Colorado law defines an "at-risk" adult as anyone over the age of 70, which would include Clark, and requires harsher sentences for assault against the elderly. Shielke said prosecutors disregarded those guidelines and let Hanning off easy.
“Any other citizen would absolutely see some jail time,” she said. “Somehow Hanning, because he’s a police officer, doesn’t see one second inside a jail cell.”
The Clark family still has a pending civil rights lawsuit against Hanning and the Idaho Springs Police Department.
A timeline of 75-year-old Michael Clark's forceful arrest and aftermath:
- July 14: 75-year-old Idaho Springs man recovered after being tased without warning by police
- July 16: Idaho Springs police officer who tased 75-year-old man without warning has been fired
- July 23: Body camera footage showing violent arrest of 75-year-old Idaho Springs man released
- July 26: Idaho Springs police sued over violent arrest of 75-year-old man
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