A police officer in Colorado has been placed on administrative leave pending investigations for breaking the arm of a 73-year-old dementia patient who had forgotten to pay for items worth $14 (£10) and was walking away from a Walmart store.
The incident took place in June 2020 when Karen Garner was pushed to the ground and handcuffed by an officer of the Loveland police department (LPD). She has now filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Loveland and police officers.
“LPD takes very seriously the allegations concerning the arrest of resident Karen Garner, and shares with the community the concerns about video images that became public on Wednesday,” said the department in a statement on Thursday.
While the officer who made the arrest has been placed on administrative leave, two other officers mentioned in the lawsuit - a backup officer and a supervisory sergeant – have been reassigned to administrative duties, the LPD said.
According to the lawsuit, Walmart employees had asked Ms Garner to return to the store when they saw her leave without paying and took back the items including a soda, a candy bar, a t-shirt, and wipe refills while denying her request to pay for the items.
Subsequently, someone from the store called the police to report the incident and direction she took but specified that they suffered no loss.
The lawsuit that seeks unspecified damages claims that the 73-year-old suffered a dislocated shoulder but that no one sought medical help for her until about six hours after she was arrested when a deputy in the jail noticed she needed help.
The footage from the police body camera, included in the lawsuit, shows an officer approaching her while she is walking through a field along a road where she had been picking wildflowers. When the officer questioned her why she did not stop despite him following her in a patrol car with his lights on, Ms Garner shrugs with her arms outstretched.
It shows that she then turns her back to the officer and starts walking away following which the officer quickly grabs one of her arms, puts it behind her back and pushes her body to the ground and puts her in handcuffs even as she looks confused and repeatedly says “I am going home.”
The video of her arrest shows that she had flowers in her restrained hands behind her back. It shows that when she is questioning what is happening, the officer said: “I told you to stop. You don’t get to act this way.”
The footage also shows Ms Garner being held against the hood of the patrol car with her left arm bent up next to her head.
The lawsuit claims the arrest violated her constitutional protections against excessive force and to have due process and also violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It said that forgetting to pay for items in stores is common among those with dementia and also claimed that Ms Garner suffers from sensory aphasia, which impairs her ability to communicate and understand what other people are saying.
The lawsuit claimed that she now experiences fear, trauma and anxiety whenever she leaves her home.
“What little freedom and happiness Ms Garner enjoyed in her life as an elderly adult with declining mental health was, on 26 June 2020, recklessly and deliberately obliterated by the Loveland Police Department,” the lawsuit said.
The incident come at a time when the US has witnessed several cases of police excesses against the Black people even though in the current case Ms Garner as well as the police officers involved are White.
According to local news reports, the Larimer County District Attorney released a statement on Thursday regarding the lawsuit and said that the DA’s office is “processing the information” and will continue to review facts as they are provided.
“Our office is committed to fair and professional reviews of alleged excessive use of force,” said the statement.
Additional reporting by agencies