An Idaho Springs police officer could face prison time for using a Taser on an unarmed 75-year-old man, who has been hospitalized since the incident more than six weeks ago.
Idaho Springs police Officer Nicholas Hanning faces one count of third-degree assault of an at-risk adult, a class six felony, in connection with the alleged excessive force incident. If convicted of the charge, Hanning could face one year to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Being shocked with the Taser caused Michael Clark, 75, to suffer heart complications, followed by a stroke, according to Sarah Schielke, the attorney representing Clark’s family.
Clark also suffered a burst appendix and needed surgery on his neck, Schielke said in a news release. His health continues to deteriorate, she said.
Hanning knocked on Clark’s apartment door just before 11 p.m. May 30 after Clark’s neighbor called 911 to say Clark punched her in the face after a dispute about noise, according to Hanning’s arrest affidavit that was unsealed Tuesday. Hanning did not announce himself as police, the affidavit written by a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent, states.
Clark, wearing only boxer shorts, opened the door and Hanning entered Clark’s apartment and forced him against a wall, according to the affidavit’s description of body camera footage from the scene. Clark was holding a serrated sword when he opened the door and he placed it on top of a shelf after Hanning and the other responding officer, Ellie Summers, told him to put it down.
The officers then yelled at Clark to simultaneously lie on the ground and to “get out here,” according to Hanning’s arrest affidavit. Summers drew her gun and pointed it at Clark. Clark refused to lie on the ground but tried to explain the noise issue to the officers, the affidavit states.
Hanning, without warning or a command, then fired his Taser at Clark, who immediately fell to the ground and struck a dining room chair as he fell, the affidavit states.
Hanning later told a paramedic that he punched Clark in the back of the head and kicked him in the knee.
In an interview with police at the hospital, Clark told Summers that he answered the door holding the sword because he thought it was his partying neighbors and he did not know the people knocking were police. He said he didn’t get on the ground when the officers told him to because he hadn’t done anything wrong. He denied striking his neighbor.
Idaho Springs police policy mandates that officers give a warning before using a Taser and says officers should avoid using the stun gun on elderly people. The policy also states Tasers should only be used against people who are acting violently or are physically resisting arrest.
The initial news releases from Idaho Springs police and the district attorney’s office issued on Friday unfairly painted Clark as a “crazed individual,” Schielke said. Clark’s family has demanded the release of the body camera footage to the public.
“We won’t wait another minute because our dad may not have another minute,” Clark’s family said in a statement. “Our family deserves the truth right now.”
Clear Creek County Judge Cynthia Jones during a court hearing Tuesday morning ordered the district attorney to release the video to the public no later than July 29. Jones also unsealed Hanning’s arrest affidavit.
The case is one of the first tests of the state’s new laws mandating the release of body worn cameras in cases where police misconduct is alleged.
Fifth Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum said during the hearing that she intended to release the body camera footage, but was confused by language in the bill signed into law on July 6.
“The people want to comply with the new statute, the people find certain portions of the statute to be somewhat convoluted as to the timing of the release,” she said.
The new law mandates that law enforcement agencies release body camera footage within 21 days if a complaint of misconduct is filed. If there is a criminal case or investigation, the law also states the time period can begin the day counsel is appointed to a defendant, the date the defendant is charged or the day the defendant receives the body camera footage.
But the definition of “complaint” is unclear and McCollum said she didn’t know which of those dates officially started the 21-day timetable.
“While this was an attempt by the legislature to clean some of this up, it did not clean it up,” Jones said.
Jones decided that the timeline would start on July 8, the day that charges were filed against Hanning. Jones also ordered the DA’s office to blur parts of the video, like the faces of non-law enforcement witnesses and medical personnel.
Hanning remains employed by the Idaho Springs Police Department, though his employment is being reviewed by the city, department leaders said in a news release. He joined the department in 2017 after working as a Park County sheriff’s deputy.
“We would like to extend our thoughts to the person directly involved in this incident, along with the family members that were impacted,” Idaho Springs police Chief Nathan Buseck said in the news release.
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