This week, cell phone video footage showed police in Loveland, CO violently arrested an 80-pound woman with dementia, fracturing her arm, spraining her wrist, and dislocating her shoulder. Hours after the arrest, which happened in June, the officers laughed about the incident: "I thought it went great," one of them says in the released booking cell video. "I think we crushed it."
Employees at a Walmart in Loveland called the police after 73-year-old Karen Garner allegedly pulled off an employee’' mask and left the store without paying for items worth $13.88. The cops found her plucking flowers on the side of the road, and she repeatedly insisted that she was "going home" as they pushed her to the ground and handcuffed her. She was brought to jail, where she wasn't given medical care until six hours later, according to a new lawsuit.
A lawyer representing Garner's family who previously released bodycam footage of the arrest has now decided to release a cell video depicting the officers laughing and boasting about the incident. "When I had her pushed against the car when you first got there, I was like, 'Okay, you're gonna play,' and I was pushing, pushing, pushing, I hear, pop. I was like, 'Oh no,'" Officer Austin Hopp recounts in the video. Later, as they rewatch the footage, he jokes, "Ready for the pop? Hear the pop?"
Officer Daria Jalali, who was also involved in Garner's arrest, shields her eyes and says, "I hate it. I hate this." Another officer, Tyler Blackett, laughs and responds, "I love it."
On April 14, Garner's family filed a lawsuit against the city and three officers involved in the arrest. In the suit, they argue that Garner has dementia and sensory aphasia, which impeded her ability to understand the officers. After watching the booking cell footage, they amended the suit, accusing two more officers of failing to help Garner and call for medical assistance. The District Attorney's office said in an April 19 statement that the incident is under criminal investigation, and the city of Loveland announced that another investigation would be conducted to determine whether the officers followed protocol. But since the cell phone footage has been widely released, on Tuesday, four officers were placed on administrative leave. Refinery29 will not be linking to the video.
"Karen is our mother. She is our children's grandmother. She is a human being," the family told The Washington Post in a statement. "The Loveland Police treated her like an animal. They reveled in her pain and did nothing to address it. They relished in stripping her of all dignity. Our hearts could not ache more."
The lawsuit emphasizes the need to train officers how to interact with elderly people or those with disabilities like Garner. Lawyer Sarah Schielke said that, in this instance, the police should have requested a mental health unit. But Garner’s arrest wasn’t an isolated event -- instead, it’s just another example of the police failing to understand and help someone with a mental health condition or illness, and further proof that mental health experts should be tasked with solving and de-escalating these kinds of situations.
"There is a cost associated with these controversial incidents," Johnny Rice II, Dr.PH, a professor of criminal justice at Coppin State University, wrote in a 2020 blog post for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "For instance, family members and friends may be reluctant to call the police for assistance in a crisis if they think their loved one may get hurt or killed as a result of their intervention.”
Rice pointed to a 2016 incident in which Arnaldo Rios Soto, a man with autism, ran away from a Miami group home. A bystander called the police after watching Soto sit down in the middle of the street. When officers — and also his behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey — arrived at the scene, Kinsey calmly attempted to explain that Soto posed no threat. An officer tried to shoot Soto and shot Kinsey instead.
"It is my opinion that the officer did not consider the context provided by Kinsey: that a man with a developmental disorder needed help and posed no harm," wrote Rice. "What may be perceived by an officer as a person's failure to reply to orders might simply reflect symptoms."
There was also the 2013 murder of Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old with Down syndrome: When Saylor tried to enter a movie theater with an old ticket, several off-duty officers working as security guards confronted him and tried to drag him out of the theater. He "ended up on the floor with at least one deputy on top of him," wrote Saylor's parents in a lawsuit. He stopped breathing and was then pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. His death was ruled a homicide, but the deputies were cleared of all charges. The state of Maryland, however, did implement new required training on responding to similar situations.
Or take the case of Daniel Prude, who was pushed and pinned to the ground in March 2020 after officers found him naked, rambling, and roaming a street in Rochester, NY. "I placed the phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched," said his brother, Joseph, according to NPR.
Isabella Collins, whose brother Angelo Quinto was also killed after she called the police for help dealing with a mental health episode, echoed this statement. "I just wanted him to be able to calm down, and I thought they could help with that," she told The Associated Press. "I guess it was really naive of me to think that he wouldn't get hurt."
And it shouldn't be. But according to the Police Shootings Database, almost one out of four people killed by officers since 2015 had a mental illness, even though at least 34 states already require law enforcement to undergo specific training. Some states have proposed even more training, but after so many preventable tragedies, trends, and heartbreaking videos like the one of Garner's arrest, it's clear that the problem will only be solved when situations related to mental health, developmental issues, and disabilities are handled by the people best equipped to deal with them. And those people will never be the police.