Former Loveland officer sentenced to 5 years in prison for arrest of 73-year-old woman with dementia

Loveland Police Department
A screenshot from Loveland police officer Austin Hopp’s body camera moments before he forcefully arrested 73-year-old Karen Garner in Loveland on June 26, 2020.

A former Loveland police officer will spend up to five years in prison for his role in the violent arrest of a 73-year-old woman with dementia.

Austin Hopp was sentenced by a Larimer County judge on Thursday after pleading guilty to second degree assault in March. He will serve an additional three years of parole following his release. The sentencing is the latest development in the legal saga stemming from the 2020 arrest of Karen Garner, which was captured on Hopp’s body-worn camera and widely circulated online. 

“Mr. Hopp will never have the opportunity to abuse power in that way again,” said Gordon McLaughlin, District Attorney for the Eighth Judicial District. “This is a significant and severe sentence but a just and proportional sentence too.”

Dementia Arrest-Colorado
Larimer County Sheriff's Office via AP, File
This undated photo provided by the Larimer County Sheriff's Office shows Austin Hopp in Fort Collins, Colo.

Hopp encountered Garner near a Walmart in June 2020. Workers had called police to report that Garner left the store without paying for several small items, and Hopp approached her as she picked flowers along the side of a nearby road.

As he exited his vehicle, Hopp began speaking to Garner, who shrugged in confusion and began walking away from him. At that point, Hopp grabbed her arms from behind and forced her to the ground.

Body camera footage shows that Hopp then pushed Garner against the hood of his car, and she attempted to turn around while repeating that she was going home. Hopp then pushed her back against the car and moved her bent left arm up near her head, saying, “Are you finished? Are you finished? We don’t play this game.”

Garner suffered a dislocated shoulder, a broken arm and bruises during the arrest. Officers were later recorded laughing at her injuries. According to Garner’s family, she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Garner was living independently at the time of the arrest, but now lives in a memory care facility, according to her children, who spoke at Thursday’s hearing. 

“This made the disease progress much faster, taking that much more time away from us,” her son, John Stewart, told The Denver Post.

Hopp also apologized to the family and community during Thursday’s sentencing. 

Attorney Sarah Schielke, Karen Garner's daughter Allisa Swartz and Garner's daughter-in-law Shannon Steward (left to right) appear at a press conference Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

In the years since Garner’s arrest, the Loveland Police Department has come under intense scrutiny for its training practices. The city launched a new trust commission to help repair relations with the community. Last September, the city settled a federal lawsuit brought by Garner’s family for $3 million.

In February, the city’s chief of police, Bob Ticer, resigned from his position to take a similar job in Arizona. The department’s interim chief issued a statement on Hopp’s sentencing Thursday. 

“The LPD is grateful for the DA’s diligence & pursuit of due process during this very important case,” said Interim Chief Eric Stewart. “While this will not change the terrible treatment Ms. Garner experienced,we hope that this sentence can bring some measure of justice to her & her family.”

Criminal proceedings are still underway for Daria Jalali, Hopp’s former partner, who helped him restrain Garner. Her next hearing is scheduled for June. 

CPR’s Paolo Zialcita contributed to this report.