DENVER — The arrest of a 73-year-old Loveland woman with dementia, which was recorded on police body cam video, is raising questions about excessive force and whether more training is needed to spot mental health issues that aren't so readily apparent.
Karen Garner was stopped by police on June 26, 2020 while walking home from the Walmart in Loveland. She had been detained by store personnel after allegedly shoplifting a t-shirt, chocolate candy, Pepsi and Shout laundry detergent, worth a total of $13.88.
According to the complaint filed against Loveland Police in U.S. District Court, Garner has dementia and sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to communicate and understand.
An employee called police, and body cam video captured by responding officers shows the arrest in its entirety. The complaint alleges that Garner suffered a broken arm, dislocated shoulder, sprained wrist and abrasions during the arrest and that she was not given medical treatment while in a city holding cell.
"I think what is disturbing in the video is you see the officer kind of immediately treat her like enemy number one," said Aya Gruber, a law professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. "It shows an utter lack of compassion and human feeling."
Gruber said police overreacted and used too much force on an 80 pound woman with dementia, who had been accused of shoplifting.
Ed Obayashi is a national use of force expert, a practicing attorney, a legal advisor to the Plumas County Sheriff's Office in California and a lecturer in classrooms on use of force. He said the officers in the video acted according to protocol.
"She did not want to stop. The officer reached out to grab her, and she pulled away," Obayashi said.
He added there was no indication on the video that Garner suffered from mental illness.
When asked if officers need more training on how to deal with people experiencing dementia or other less apparent mental health issues, Obayashi replied, "training is preferred, but there are limitations."
"There are trained medical professionals that go through years of medical training. You can't expect an officer to get through the same level of intense discipline," Obayashi said. "That is not their primary role."
However, Gruber feels the force seen in the video was too far.
"I think the force they used was absolutely excessive to the nature of the charges, the nature of the suspect — the unarmed suspect," Gruber.
She said the officers exhibited a very dismissive and demeaning attitude.
Obayashi said he didn't see excessive force used in the video. He also said the extent of Garner's injuries didn't necessarily indicate the use of excessive force.
"An otherwise reasonable use of force can inadvertently result in an injury that was not intended," he said. "The angle of the limbs, frailty or preexisting conditions can come into play."
While it will be up to a court to determine the outcome of this situation, observers say there is no question that police are under a microscope like never before.
The Loveland police officer accused of excessive force has been placed on administrative leave and another officer involved in Garner's arrest, as well as the supervisor at the scene, have been reassigned to administrative duties.