Family Outraged After Senior with Dementia Arrested for Forgetting to Pay for Groceries

A family from Loveland, Colorado, is up in arms after a member of their family was needlessly and aggressively arrested for an accidental crime that she was more than willing to correct.

Karen Garner, a 73-year-old dementia patient, left her local Walmart without paying for about $14 worth of merchandise, including a soda, a candy bar, and a few other items. Karen suffers from dementia and sensory aphasia and did not realize that she hadn’t paid for these groceries as she began walking home.

“Walmart employees stopped her and escorted her back inside, where they took the items back,” Karen’s family wrote in their official complaint. “Ms. Garner attempted to hand them her credit card to pay, but they refused. Ms. Garner, unable to communicate with them or fully grasp what was going on, then walked out of the store and began walking the short distance back to her home.”

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Walmart employees reportedly called the police after Karen left the store. The family’s report claims that police were informed that their suspect was elderly and petite (about 80 lbs and five feet tall). The police were also told that the items she’d stolen were already returned.

The first officer to respond found Karen just a few blocks from the store. Karen was allegedly showing clear signs of dementia when that officer caught up with her and forcibly detained her.

“[The officer] activated his overhead lights while driving behind her and quietly waited for Ms. Garner to notice and stop for him. She did not notice him, however, and instead continued walking along,” the report states. “He continued driving along behind her at about 2 mph, flashing his overhead lights and waiting for her to stop, which she continued to not appear to notice or understand.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/vmargineanu

Body camera footage obtained from the officer, Austin Hopp, shows him getting out of the car and approaching the elderly woman. Then a dialogue can be heard.

Officer Hopp: “You don’t want to stop with lights on, sirens? Stop.”
Karen Garner: Shrugs and mumbles something unintelligible
Officer Hopp: “You just left Walmart … Do you need to be arrested right now?”

Karen turned away from the officer and continued to walk away. Then the officer grabbed one of her arms, pulled it behind her back, and pushed her to the ground. Karen repeatedly said, “I’m going home,” throughout the ordeal.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Ocskay Mark

The family’s complaint states that Karen suffered injuries from her encounter with Officer Hopp, including a bloody nose, scrapes on her face, knee contusions, and a dislocated shoulder.

Now Karen’s family is suing over the unnecessary detainment and injury of their family member, saying that officers and others involved should have been more understanding of Karen’s condition. Officer Hopp is facing charges for assault in the second degree causing a serious bodily injury to an at-risk victim and attempting to influence a public servant, as well as a misdemeanor charge for official misconduct. His colleague, Daria Jalali, faces three misdemeanor charges, including failure to report excessive use of force, failure to intervene in a use of excessive force, and official misconduct.

If Karen’s payment had simply been accepted and the employees had realized she had good intentions, this entire incident potentially could have been avoided. Let’s all remember to be kind to one another when we can. We’re all going through life a little bit differently.

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