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Unarmed 75-year-old Tasered without warning by Colorado officer: ‘What did I do?’

Police in Idaho Springs, Colo., Tasered Michael Clark without warning on May 30. Clark suffered a stroke and a burst appendix. (Video: The Washington Post)
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When police knocked on Michael Clark’s door in Idaho Springs, Colo., in May, he emerged in his underwear, holding a swordlike weapon. Police ordered him to drop it, and the 75-year-old complied, placing it on a shelf several feet behind him.

“Get on the ground!” a female officer screamed, her weapon pointed at Clark.

“No,” Clark said, trying to explain the dispute he was having with his neighbors.

Without warning, a male officer raised his Taser, pointed it at Clark’s torso and fired. Clark fell backward into his apartment and went unconscious. The police then dragged Clark’s body out of the apartment. As the two officers tried to handcuff the unresponsive Clark, the male officer placed his knee on Clark’s neck.

Following the incident, Clark suffered a stroke and a burst appendix, the Associated Press reported. He was hospitalized for weeks after the incident, according to the Denver Post, and was later admitted to a nursing facility.

Sarah Schielke, Clark’s lawyer, said in a Thursday statement that her client’s health was “declining.”

Clark has not been charged with a crime, according to the Denver Post. By contrast, the male officer, Nicholas Hanning, was charged earlier this month with third-degree assault against an at-risk person. Hanning, a three-year member of the force, was fired on July 15. Idaho Springs Police Chief Nathan Buseck said Hanning’s actions were “not reflective of the culture of our organization.”

Body-camera footage of the May 30 incident was released on Thursday and distributed by Clark’s lawyer. Schielke told The Washington Post that Clark plans to file a lawsuit “very soon.”

“There is this toxic culture of never expecting to be held accountable in police forces,” she told The Post. “What’s happening is we’re putting cameras on them, and they’re not changing their behavior or attitude.”

Hanning’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday.

The incident is the latest flash point in how police use Tasers, particularly against the elderly. In March, police rushed a 67-year-old man to the hospital after using a Taser on him in Port Allen, La. The man was handcuffed at the time. In August 2018, police shocked an 87-year-old in Chatsworth, Ga., as the woman foraged for dandelions. And in October 2017, police in ​​Kingstree, S.C., hit 86-year-old Albert Chatfield with a Taser, sending him to intensive care.

Clark’s case also follows that of Karen Garner, a 73-year-old with dementia whom police in Loveland, Colo., tackled and arrested in June 2020 after she walked out of a Walmart without paying for items worth $13. Schielke is also representing Garner’s family in a lawsuit.

The May 30 incident that ended in Clark getting Tasered began when his two next-door neighbors called 911 at about 10:40 p.m., according to the arrest warrant for Hanning, the police officer.

One of Clark’s neighbors claimed that Clark banged on the wall and told her to be quiet. She said she was sleeping, and she knocked on Clark’s door. She claimed Clark then punched her.

The body-camera footage released Thursday shows Hanning and his partner, Officer Ellie Summers, speaking with the neighbors. The woman, who had been drinking, according to her roommate, cried as she told the officers that Clark had punched her.

Hanning and Summers then knocked on Clark’s door but did not identify themselves as police, according to the body-camera footage. Clark opened the door and asked: “What do you want?”

Hanning swore at Clark before moving into the apartment toward the man, telling him to put down the sword he was holding.

Clark walked to a shelf and placed it on top, then faced the police officers with his hands at his sides. Hanning ordered Clark to come out to the hall, while Summers ordered him to get on the ground.

Clark refused. “They hit that wall so hard, I thought they were going to come through the wall,” Clark said, appearing to speak about his neighbors.

Within seconds, Hanning raised the Taser and fired it at Clark. He moaned and fell backward into his apartment, appearing to hit his head on a dining room chair. The officers rushed into the apartment, and when Hanning grabbed Clark’s arm and pulled his body up, the man’s head bumped into a bookshelf.

Hanning then dragged Clark out of the apartment by his feet, and the two officers handcuffed him.

Clark eventually regained consciousness and again tried to tell the officers his side of the story. He appeared confused about why he was Tasered and handcuffed.

After paramedics arrived several minutes later, Clark asked Hanning: “What did I do?”

“You punched that girl,” Hanning told him. “You punched that girl and then answered the door with a fricking machete, man.”

“No, that is absolutely false,” Clark said. “I didn’t come after nobody. I was just in bed.”