Former Loveland police officer Austin Hopp, who was charged with second-degree assault causing serious bodily injury, attempt to influence a public servant and official misconduct for how he handled the June 2020 arrest of Karen Garner, had a preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon at which evidence was presented.
A decision was not yet made to move the case forward.
On behalf of the people, assistant district attorney Matt Maillaro interviewed two witnesses and entered multiple videos into evidence showing Hopp’s interactions with Garner last June and discussion with colleagues afterward.
The two witnesses, the leads of the Critical Incident Response Team investigation — both Fort Collins Police Services detectives — testified in detail about the findings of their investigation, training processes for officers and standard use of police force regarding holding methods.
Both detectives Kelsey Skaar and Justin Butler said they had never seen a hold used by an officer like the one Hopp used when restraining Garner.
The footage reviewed and entered into evidence had previously been released to the public by Garner’s lawyer, Sarah Schielke.
Though those clips were shown at the hearing, body camera footage footage also showed Hopp twisting Garner’s arms and forcing them behind her back to take her to the ground. Footage from inside the Loveland police station — also released to the public by Schielke — showed Hopp, former officer Daria Jalali and former community service officer Tyler Blackett laughing and joking about their use of force while Garner sat in a holding cell nearby.
“It is your job as an officer when you arrest to be reasonable,” said Maillaro in his closing statement, adding that Hopp was “unreasonable” in not assessing Garner’s age, size or state of mind before “throwing” her to the ground, adding that it was “unnecessary” to use excessive force.
“Did he know he was going to break her shoulder? I don’t know. That’s not our burden. Our burden is to show that he knew he was hurting her, (and) yes he did,” Maillaro said.
Because Larimer County Judge Carroll Michelle Brinegar had not seen the footage in full, the defense requested she not make a judgement out of the preliminary hearing until she had. Hopp’s attorney, Jonathan Datz also claimed there is “significant exculpatory evidence forthcoming.”
Garner’s son, daughter-in-law and grandson were in attendance at the hearing. Her son, John Steward, said that while it was “very, very difficult” to be in the courtroom, he believes “justice will be served.”
“I just feel like he’s going to get what’s coming to him, and I’m hoping that’s going to come swiftly,” said Steward, who added he wants to focus on enjoying the time he has left with his mother.
Schielke had no comment on the status of the family’s civil lawsuit against the Loveland Police Department.
The criminal charges against Hopp and Jalai were filed as a result of a Critical Incident Response Team investigation. The investigation found Hopp used excessive force in arresting Garner and made “substantial omissions” in his report of the arrest “in an attempt to thwart the investigation of his conduct,” 8th Judicial District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin said at a May news conference.
Jalali faces three related misdemeanor charges. Her next court appearance was set for after Hopp’s preliminary hearing to give attorneys on both sides more time to review evidence.
Hopp, Jalali and Blackett resigned in April. Their resignations came about two weeks after a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed by Schielke on behalf of Garner and her family alleging officers used excessive force and violated Garner’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit also accuses the Loveland Police Department of failing to train their officers on interacting with residents with disabilities.
Jalali’s next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 13.
Hopp is out of custody on a $20,000 bond, and a judge previously approved his request to live out of state as the case proceeds through the court system. A decision is scheduled to be made out of the preliminary hearing at 11 a.m. Aug. 30.
Loveland’s actions stemming from Garner’s arrest
Since the civil lawsuit was filed in mid-April, the city of Loveland and Loveland Police Department have announced the following actions they’ve taken to address the concerns from the community:
All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in court. Arrests and charges are merely accusations by law enforcement until, and unless, a suspect is convicted of a crime.
Sady Swanson covers public safety, criminal justice, Larimer County government and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.