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A Colorado cop allegedly tased an unarmed grandfather in his underwear at home during a May 30 encounter, seemingly setting off a “cascade of terrible health events” and a weekslong hospital stay, according to the elderly man’s attorney.
Nicholas Hanning, now a former Idaho Springs, Colorado, officer, allegedly injured 75-year-old Michael Clark while responding to a call about a dispute with Clark’s neighbor. He’s facing a charge of third-degree assault of an at-risk adult for his role in the incident, which left Clark in poor health and has devastated his family.
“The Taser wrecked his heart,” Clark’s two children said in a statement last week, demanding the immediate release of body-worn camera footage from the police encounter with their father. “He’s lost everything. All independence. All happiness. Every second and every minute that goes by with the police being allowed to keep the world in the dark and make everyone believe our dad may have done something to deserve this is torture.”
Clark, whenever lucid, has also requested that bodycam footage be made public, according to his attorney, Sarah Schielke.
“He has been adamant about that,” Schielke said.
Despite those requests, bodycam footage that would show Clark’s injuries still hasn’t been released. It’s ultimately set to be out by July 29, however, thanks to a court order and a new state law concerning transparency around allegations of officer misconduct, according to Colorado Public Radio.
Schielke—who is also representing the family of the Colorado grandmother with dementia who was tackled by cops, garnering widespread media attention earlier this year—had publicly accused the local district attorney and police chief of deliberately withholding footage and implying Clark deserved what happened to him.
“They acted this way knowing that there has never been more urgency, ever, given Michael’s health,” Schielke said. “They wanted to control the narrative. They wanted to do everything on their own terms—because that’s how they’re used to doing things. They’re used to having all of the power.”
Fifth Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum said the new state law went into effect the afternoon before Hanning was arrested, adding, “My office has not withheld anything. We specifically asked for a hearing on clarification on the law.” As far as what’s been released about the incident so far, McCollum said it’s substantiated by the affidavit and is not intended to paint anyone in a bad light.
“We have not refused to release anything,” McCollum said. “We are releasing it as the court ordered.”
Hanning was fired from his post with the agency last week, according to a press release from the city. The press release also said Hanning not only initiated the “physical altercation” with Clark but also failed to identify himself as an officer when knocking on Clark’s door following a call for service.
“The actions of former Officer Hanning are not reflective of the culture of our organization,” Police Chief Nathan Buseck said in the city’s press release. “ISPD is an agency that takes great pride in how we interact with our citizens, and this incident was not acceptable.”
Buseck declined to comment outside of the statements he's already made publicly, but he said his office hasn't withheld anything, and has provided the district attorney's office with bodycam footage.
The incident began in the late evening of May 30, when a neighbor of Clark’s accused him of punching her in the face over a noise complaint, according to Hanning’s arrest affidavit. Hanning and his colleague Ellie Summers responded to the claim, which Schielke said was ultimately untrue.
As Schielke describes it, Clark’s neighbors had “slammed into the wall” they shared with Clark’s apartment that night, causing him to bang on the wall to indicate that he wanted them to keep it down, Schielke said. They banged back in response, then allegedly called the cops with a false claim about Clark punching a woman, Schielke said.
“They talked to her for 95 seconds, then marched over to Michael’s door, banged on it, and did not identify themselves as police,” Schielke said of the officers. “Each stood off to the side, so that when he looked through the peephole, he could not see anybody. So his best guess was that it was the loud and dangerous-sounding new neighbors.”
Clark answered the door holding what the affidavit described as a “Hawaiian sword,” which Schielke said is a collectible item made from the teeth of a sawfish.
Hanning yelled at Clark to put the sword down, which he did, leaving himself unarmed.
The officers then commanded Clark to both “get out here” and “get down” before he said no, according to the affidavit. Clark explained that his neighbors had hit his wall so hard that he thought they’d come through it.
“It’s very clear he thinks [the cops] are there to referee the door-pounding,” Schielke said. “He has no idea someone has falsely accused him of assault.”
But around that time, “without commands or warning,” Hanning fired his Taser and struck Clark in his abdomen and pelvic area, according to the affidavit. Unconscious, Clark fell straight back into a dining room chair before landing on the floor. In all, 19 seconds elapsed between Clark putting the sword down and Hanning taking his Taser out, Schielke, who has viewed the bodycam footage, said.
Now, nearly two months after the fact, Clark is in a 24-hour care facility, according to Schielke, although he still requires heart surgery. He was in good health before he was tased, she noted; he’d spent the day leading up to the encounter putting American flags on the graves of fallen soldiers at a national cemetery in Denver, just ahead of Memorial Day.
“It’s very much fluid and scary,” Schielke said.
Hanning’s attorney, Lara Jimenez, said he's limited in what he’s able to say due to a court order regarding pre-trial publicity, though he's “looking forward to his opportunity to be heard in court.”
“Mr. Hanning is saddened by some of the factual inaccuracies that have been presented in the media,” Jimenez said.
In filing a motion to unseal Hanning's arrest affidavit last week, Jimenez argued that Schielke has commented to the media "in direct contravention to the court’s order," including with allegations that Clark was "tackled and choked."
"This is a misstatement of the facts at best, misleading, and starkly contradicts the actual evidence collected during law enforcement’s investigation into this case," the filing said.
When asked about the motion, Schielke sent VICE News a still of bodycam footage that appeared to show Hanning with his knee on Clark's neck.