DENVER -- A 75-year-old Colorado man who suffered a cascade of health problems after a police officer used a Taser on him in his home without warning filed a federal lawsuit Monday, accusing the officer of also putting a knee on his neck and causing an injury to his carotid artery that required surgery.
After former Idaho Springs Officer Nicholas Hanning used the Taser on May 30, Michael Clark says he lost consciousness and struck a chair as he fell. His lawsuit asserts that Hanning then put pressure on his neck that deprived him of oxygen, prolonged his loss of consciousness and increased his risk of death.
Hanning has been charged with third-degree assault and fired. Body camera footage released last week appears to show Hanning’s knee on Clark’s neck as the handcuffed man laid on the ground after being stunned and dragged out of his apartment. The officer's knee is not always in view, so it's not clear how long that lasted. Within about 15 seconds, Hanning's knee can be seen again but on Clark’s back just below the neck.
A lawyer for Hanning did not immediately return a telephone call or an email seeking comment.
Police initially said Clark and an officer got into an altercation before the Taser was used but later said Hanning initiated the altercation and that Clark put down a sword-like weapon when asked. Police Chief Nathan Buseck, who asked prosecutors to investigate, declined to comment on pending litigation.
Colorado lawmakers passed a sweeping police reform law during nationwide protests over George Floyd's killing last year by a Minneapolis officer who pressed a knee into his neck. It banned officers from using chokeholds, defined as any pressure that could make breathing difficult or impossible or pressure to the carotid arteries to stop the flow of blood to the brain.
Clark's body began sending blood cells to the injured carotid artery within 24 hours and he had a stroke the next day, according to the lawsuit against Hanning, another officer with him at Clark’s apartment, their supervisor and the city.
According to the footage and court documents, Hanning and his partner knocked on the door to Clark’s apartment without announcing they were police. A 30-year-old woman who had just moved in next door had accused Clark of punching her in the face, which Clark later denied. The lawsuit alleges the woman was intoxicated, offered authorities varying accounts of what happened and had no injuries.
Clark had yelled through the wall at his new neighbors about making loud noise as he was trying to sleep, according to the lawsuit. He answered the door with a collectible sawfish snout sword, thinking it might be the neighbors coming to confront him, but only realized it was the police once he opened the door, it said.
The officers' body camera footage shows Hanning going into Clark’s apartment and telling him to put down the sword, which Clark does immediately. The lawsuit says Hanning also kicked Clark in the knee and punched him in the head.
Clark then refused the officers’ conflicting commands to get on the ground and get out of the apartment, forcefully saying “No," the video shows. Then, as Clark was talking about his neighbors being noisy, Hanning used his Taser on him, less than a minute after Clark opened his door.
Eight weeks after Clark was wheeled out of his apartment building with his arms and ankles tied to a stretcher, he has not been able to return home and is in a nursing home in need of surgery on his heart and to remove a burst appendix, according to the lawsuit. Doctors do not think his heart is strong enough to undergo surgery on his appendix and they do not want to operate on his heart and risk infection caused by the ruptured appendix, it said.