Loveland’s City Council grappled Tuesday with new footage released in the Karen Garner lawsuit and heard concerns from citizens on the city’s handling of the issue.
While Loveland’s Police Department said Monday that it would not comment on new footage released by Garner’s attorney, City Manager Steve Adams opened the meeting by sharing his own concerns about the video that shows arresting officer Austin Hopp and others in the police department laughing and joking about the arrest of the 73-year-old with dementia.
“I found the actions captured in this video deeply troubling and not reflective of the values of our organization’s staff,” he said. “I found the video very difficult to watch.”
He then said that four police officers involved in the arrest have been placed on administrative leave, including Hopp, Tyler Blackett, Sgt. Phil Metzler and Daria Jalali.
Previously, the Loveland Police Department had said one officer was placed on leave and two others were reassigned to administrative duties.
Additionally, he said the department is mandating training around mental health conditions, specifically Alzheimer’s and dementia, and including the City Attorney’s Office and Human Resources staffers on the review of use-of-force reports entered into the BlueTeam software suite. He also said the department will review its paid leave policy in the case of “extenuating circumstances.”
While he acknowledged that the steps were not a “final solution,” he said the steps he listed “are only immediate actions we are taking to restore our public trust in our city.”
Adams declined to answer a series of questions from councilor Andrea Samson, who mentioned that some community members are asking for the officer to be fired. Adams said he had shared all he could about the ongoing lawsuit.
“I don’t know that this response is enough for our community,” Samson said of Adams’ original statement.
Councilor Rob Molloy, who had previously tried to schedule a closed-door performance review of Adams and City Attorney Moses Garcia, slammed the city’s management of the crisis. He questioned why council members were not told about the second video prior to it being released by Garner’s attorney.
“I get word from an email, I get word from the newspaper, I get word not from the city that works for the elected officials,” he said. “I’m very, very disappointed.
“The statement you made was very, I don’t know, eloquent, but it did not bring out anything that’s going to help our citizens understand what’s going on,” he added. “I know the lawsuit’s going on, and that’s something we can hide behind … but the information needs to be put out there.”
Adams declined to respond to Molloy’s criticisms.
During an open public comment period, callers who spoke on the issue were unilaterally critical of the police department. One resident, Shane Ritter, was ceded time by others to read a letter that had been signed by more than 160 people “sincerely, and with outrage.”
“An innocent, elderly, disabled and severely injured resident of the United States of America was left handcuffed to a bench in a holding cell while the arresting officers laughed, joked and gloated about the arrest while watching their own body camera footage,” Ritter said, and questioned how the incident was handled internally.
“We have elected each of you to serve us. We demand swift action now,” he added.
While councilor John Fogle asked Adams whether the city could share a timeframe of when more information would be released, Adams said the city wants to communicate more frequently but is limited by the timeframe of Fort Collins Police Services’ investigation on behalf of the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
“I know there’s a desire to talk in public … there is, at this point, information that we just can’t share that way,” Adams said.
Though Samson pushed at one point for the council to change the topic of an upcoming town hall to an open discussion of the Garner issue, her request did not get the needed votes. Councilor Dave Clark said he trusted Adams’ office to disclose information as soon as possible.
“We’re going to get informed as quickly as we can, and so is the community,” he said. “I do not see the need for a town hall to ask questions that the city can’t answer at that time.”
“Sometimes our job is just to listen,” Samson replied.
He and councilor Steve Olson also said they were hesitant to pass judgment on the officers involved, even as they expressed concern about what was shown in the footage.
“I know many of our police officers, many of the ones I know would not conduct themselves in the way we might have seen on this video,” Clark said, adding that while he “strongly support(s)” the police, he is “not condoning the actions shown on the video by any means.”
Councilor Richard Ball also warned against inviting a lawsuit by terminating any of the officers in haste.
Samson received the support of Mayor Jacki Marsh and councilors Ball and Molloy for the council to discuss creating a citizen board to oversee law enforcement activities.
Fogle also moved successfully for the council to add a public comment period to study sessions for the next 120 days, with Olson casting the only “no” vote and councilor Don Overcash absent.
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