Officers involved in the arrest of 73-year-old Karen Garner violated key Loveland Police Department policies, report finds

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.

The officers involved in the arrest of Karen Garner in 2020 violated Loveland Police Department policies on use of force, compliments and complaints, as well as the chain of command and ethics. Those were the findings of an independent report by a national auditing firm released by the city of Loveland on Friday. 

City Manager Steve Adams called Friday a milestone day for the city as it takes accountability for the police department’s role in the arrest of a then-73-year-old Garner, who has dementia. 

“First and foremost, the Loveland Police Department, as well as the City of Loveland organization, are sorry for what happened to Karen Garner,” Adams said during Friday’s press conference. “We sincerely regret that this incident ever occurred and that officers in our department were responsible for how Ms. Garner was treated that day.

The audit focused on staff and police officers who handled the case within the Police Department, not the two officers who were criminally charged and convicted, and detailed a series of policy violations and failings.

Those include the actions of a sergeant who was also on the scene of the arrest, as well as a lieutenant and assistant chief who signed off on a report that claimed Garner’s injuries were a result of her struggling against handcuffs in the booking area of the police station. 

According to the report, both the arrest and the subsequent cover-up of when and how Garner was injured and what exactly happened at the scene reverberated through the department and involved about half a dozen other officers.

The report revealed Sgt. Philip Metzler changed the case number of his body-camera footage weeks after the arrest. That footage showed a bystander who witnessed Garner’s arrest and complained about the use of force on an elderly woman.

Metzler essentially removed the footage from the Garner case file — effectively hiding a piece of evidence. He also reclassified it as an “incident” rather than a case, which means that the footage would have been deleted in one year as opposed to 10 years. A department employee discovered the change and saved the files. Metzler is no longer with the police department.

On June 26, 2020, Garner was stopped by Officer Austin Hopp and Officer Daria Jalali after she left a local Walmart without paying $13.88 for several items, according to a lawsuit filed by Garner’s family against the city and police, which was settled for $3 million. Walmart employees retrieved the items but did not let Garner pay for them and called the police.

As she walked home, Hopp stopped her. When she turned away from him and indicated she did not understand him, he grabbed her and pushed her to the ground, twisted her arm around her back and handcuffed her. Garner’s shoulder was dislocated and her arm was broken during the arrest. 

Hopp and Jalali, neither of whom are still with the police department, were both charged and convicted for their actions that day. Hopp is serving a five-year prison sentence. Jalali completed her 45-day sentence and is now serving her three years of probation.

Because their actions were handled by criminal courts, they were not part of the audit, which focused on the department’s handling of the case 

Adams said on Friday that the report represents a partial conclusion to the incident, but that improvements continue 

“I'm here to tell you that we are committed to having continuous improvement in our organization. It started the day after things happened and we found out, and it has not stopped and will not stop,” Adams said.

He said a separate review by the auditing firm, Jensen and Hughes, offered recommendations for the police department. 

“It highlights a number of areas of improvement that we can do to change policies, operational procedures — how we communicate to the public, how we tell the public what's going on and how they can make complaints and concerns to us known and how we can respond,” he said. “That is part of our commitment to the community to help with these things as we implement them and move forward again with more transparency and accountability.” 

Last year, Garner’s family told CPR News that the day of her violent arrest has changed her completely. 

“She doesn't smile, since then, she just is so overwhelmed,” said Shannon Steward, Garner’s daughter-in-law. “We've talked to her caretakers about PTSD from all of this, and it has truly changed the progression of how her dementia was going.”

CPR reporter Claire Cleveland contributed to this report