DENVER – A former Idaho Springs police officer originally charged with a felony for assaulting an unarmed man in his 70s in May agreed to plead guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor assault charge in a deal offered by prosecutors.
Nicholas Hanning, 36, agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor third-degree assault charge and told the judge in the case he had wrongfully used a Taser on 75-year-old Michael Clark. Hanning had originally been charged with third-degree assault of an at-risk adult, a class 6 felony, and was later fired from the Idaho Springs Police Department.
Hanning was one of two officers who were called to Clark’s apartment by a woman who had originally claimed Clark had hit her during a dispute on May 30.
Hanning knocked on Clark’s door, but did not announce he was a police officer, according to an arrest affidavit. Body camera video of the incident obtained by Denver7 in July showed he opened his door with a collectible sword in his hand, which he put away when he was asked to do so by the officers.
After that, Hanning and another officer, Ellie Summers, yelled at him to get on the ground, according to the video. Summers pointed her firearm at him, and according to the affidavit, “without commands or warning,” Hanning used his Taser on Clark, who fell unconscious and hit a dining room chair and the floor.
The affidavit also says Hanning pulled on Clark’s arm and appears to have pulled Clark’s face into a shelving unit. Body camera images showed Clark’s eye bleeding.
Hanning also later told paramedics he had kicked Clark in the knee and punched him in the back of the head.
Clark’s attorney, Sarah Schielke, and his family have said the incident left him with heart complications, which were followed by a stroke and carotid surgery on his neck, as well as a burst appendix.
Schielke sued over the incident, and Hanning was charged in July after an independent investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. He was fired from the department a few days later, and Summer resigned on Oct. 22. The two former officers also face a separate lawsuit from a man who is deaf alleging they used unnecessary force during a 2019 arrest.
Clark’s family members learned late last month that the plea deal for Hanning was in the works and said that meant the family was “not going to get any justice.”
In court Thursday, Schielke said she believes Clark will die because of injuries he suffered in the incident and argued Hanning received special treatment in the case because he was a police officer.
She also played video of Clark asking the judge to reject the plea agreement and saying he had spent the past 100 days in the hospital. Schielke said Clark had suffered a traumatic brain injury during the incident. Clark told the court in a video his life is “not good.”
Clark’s son, Jeremy Clark, and daughter, Cynthia Flageolle, said prosecutors had not communicated with them and asked the judge to reject the plea deal.
But Stephen Potts, the 5th Judicial District deputy district attorney, told the judge Hanning had not received special treatment and that the DA’s office had reviewed more than 1,400 medical records and couldn’t find any link between the May 30 incident and Clark’s subsequent health problems.
Schielke filed a motion asking the court to reject the plea and to appoint a special prosecutor from a different office to look at the case, but the judge said that motion would not be heard until a hearing on Jan. 6.
The judge accepted the plea from Hanning, setting sentencing for Jan. 27. If the judge accepts the motion to order a special prosecutor for the case, the plea agreement would be vacated. Schielke said if that motion is not granted, she would be appealing the agreement.
Under the deal, Hanning would face up to two years in jail. He will also lose his POST certification and won’t be able to work as a law enforcement officer in Colorado.
“We agree with public sentiment in this case, that police officers need to be held accountable for their actions,” said 5th Judicial District Attorney Heidi McCollum in a statement. “As part of the guilty plea entered by Defendant Hanning today, he will be stripped of his ability to ever again work in law enforcement in the State of Colorado, and will be further subject to a potential jail sentence of up to 24 months if the court deems appropriate.”
But Flageolle, Clark’s daughter, said she was “disgusted, disappointed and sad” about the deal. Jeremy Clark said he felt the district attorney’s office only cared about the case being “over and done with.”
Jeremy Clark, son of Michael Clark, says the 5th Judicial District, only cares that the case is “over and done with”. @DenverChannel pic.twitter.com/paIPBIcycQ— CB Cotton (@CB_Cotton) December 9, 2021
The judge in the case on Nov. 30 granted Hanning’s request to go to the Bahamas Dec. 16-22 on “a personal matter,” according to court documents.
After the Jan. 6 hearing on Schielke’s motion for a special prosecutor, Hanning is set to be sentenced on Jan. 27.