A former Idaho Springs police officer pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor assault charge for Tasing a 75-year-old man who had committed no crime.
Nicholas Hanning, 36, pleaded guilty to third-degree assault in the May 30 incident as part of a plea deal that will make his maximum possible sentence two years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Hanning also agreed to never again work as a Colorado law enforcement officer.
Prosecutors with the 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office originally charged Hanning with felony assault of an at-risk adult, which has a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The 75-year-old man, Michael Clark, and his family vehemently opposed the plea deal during Thursday’s hearing. Clark’s attorney and children asked the judge to reject the deal and appoint a special prosecutor to the case.
Clark suffered heart complications related to the Tasing, including blood clotting and a stroke, and can no longer live independently, family members said. He struggles to speak and may never walk again, his daughter Cynthia Flageolle said Thursday in court.
“His life has been destroyed,” Flageolle said. “It’s been 193 days since he slept in his own bed, been in his own house, driven his own car.”
Clear Creek District Court Judge Cynthia Jones accepted the plea deal, noting she cannot change the charges filed against Hanning. Clark’s son folded over in his seat as the judge announced her decision to accept the deal and Flageolle burst into tears.
“I’m sorry that this happened and you have to go through this,” Jones said to Clark’s family.
Hanning and another officer, Ellie Summers, on May 30 knocked on Clark’s door without announcing themselves after a neighbor reported Clark punched her in the face over a noise complaint. Clark has not been charged with a crime in connection to the alleged assault.
Clark, wearing only boxers, answered the door holding a saw-tooth sword, body camera footage shows, but put it away after speaking with the officers.
Hanning fired the Taser at Clark without warning as Clark spoke to the officers. Hanning later placed his knee on the back of Clark’s neck while handcuffing the unconscious man. Hanning also took the sword from the top of the dresser where Clark had placed it and moved it to the floor of the hallway where Clark lay handcuffed.
Prosecutors charged Hanning with assault on July 21 and he was fired four days later.
During the plea hearing Thursday, Jones asked Hanning to state in his own words what he did.
“I tased Mr. Clark when I shouldn’t have,” Hanning responded.
Sarah Schielke, Clark’s attorney, said prosecutors treated Hanning with favoritism and said they should have filed more charges against Hanning, including menacing, criminal negligence and official misconduct.
“There is a miscarriage of justice afoot,” said Schielke, who is also representing Clark in a federal civil rights lawsuit against Hanning and the Idaho Springs Police Department. “This isn’t fair. This isn’t how a normal citizen would be treated.”
Jones is to consider Clark’s request for a special prosecutor at a hearing on Jan. 6. If Jones decides to appoint a special prosecutor, she will vacate the plea hearing and the case will start over.
Deputy District Attorney Stephen Potts defended prosecutors’ handling of the case and said they could not pursue more serious charges because they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Tasing caused all of Clark’s health complications. Potts said when crafting the plea deal, the office took into account Hanning’s lack of criminal history and his agreement to never again work as a law enforcement officer.
“We believe that this is the proper disposition of this case at this juncture,” Potts said.
Hanning’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 27.
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