CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. — Michael Clark, a 76-year-old Idaho Springs man who filed a lawsuit in 2021 claiming he was wrongfully assaulted by two police officers, has settled the suit for $7 million.
"This is a record-breaking settlement amount for a civil rights case in Colorado not involving wrongful death," said Sarah Schielke, Clark's attorney.
The federal lawsuit names the City of Idaho Springs, the two involved officers, and a corporal with the police department.
In the lawsuit, Schielke said body camera footage captured the officers committing assault, burglary and kidnapping when they responded to Clark's Idaho Springs apartment on May 30, 2021 after receiving a complaint that a man had punched a woman in the face.
During a press conference on Wednesday, where Schielke reviewed the case information and how the settlement was reached, she read a statement Clark wrote. He was unable to attend the press conference due to his medical conditions.
Clark's statement, as read by Schielke, read:
“This was not just for me. I fought for other people. I lost everything. They took everything from me. I lost my whole life. Money will never repay what they took, but maybe this much money will make them think about doing this to someone else. I know there’s other victims, victims who don’t have a voice, who don’t have the help I had. While I’ve been fighting for my life, my kids have been fighting like hell for me. But there are other victims of bad police officers who aren’t so lucky to have had my family and my attorney making sure that their voice was heard. Those are the people I think about a lot. In the end, I will never get back what they took. All I can hope for is that what we did in this case and in getting this amount of money will make there be less victims. To save just one person from going through what I’ve had to go through — that’s all I want.”
Clark's son Jeremy Clark and daughter Cynthia Flageolle also spoke, where they expressed gratitude that they had reached this point, disgust with the police department and how it handled the case, and sadness about proceeding forward with their father whose abilities have been severely limited.
“This settlement doesn’t even come close to repaying my father or our family for the past 18 months of torment we have endured," Jeremy Clark said. "We don’t know how much more time we will be able to spend with our father, but this money will be used to pay for his medical care and allow him to have his second-best life, since his best life was ripped away from him.”
Flageolle said her father relives the incident every time he is unable to do something. She called for change across Colorado, but particularly in Idaho Springs and Clear Creek County.
Watch the full press conference below:
The City of Idaho Springs said in a statement also released a statement on Wednesday, which reads: "The settlement amount of seven million dollars ($7,000,000) fully satisfies all claims against the City and will be paid by the City’s insurance carrier. The agreement does not represent an admission of liability from the City for the wide range of claims asserted. Rather, the agreement represents a settlement of disputed claims entered into by the City for economic reasons and to bring closure to all involved."
Schielke criticized this statement on Wednesday morning, pointing out that while the department claims that former Officer Nicholas Andrew Hanning, who was charged in this case, was a lone problem, that his actions were "very much the culture at the Idaho Springs Police Department."
She said during Hanning's disposition, he saw other officers used a Taser on people who were walking away from an officer or who represented no threat, and none were ever disciplined. Schielke said she also learned that Hanning had not completed a required Taser training after a previous incident, which he claimed left him tired and overwhelmed, but the police department "just did not care" and he was put back on patrol.
Schielke said the police department's press release does not reference any commitment to change.
According to an arrest affidavit released July 13, 2021, Idaho Springs Police Department Officers Nicholas Andrew Hanning and Ellie Summers did not announce themselves when they knocked on Clark's front door on May 30, 2021, did not warn him before using a Taser, and when they accused Clark of punching his neighbor, he claimed it was "absolutely false."
Hanning knocked on Clark’s door, but did not announce he was a police officer, according to an arrest affidavit, and body camera video of the incident obtained by Denver7 showed Clark 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 the other officer, 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.
According to the district attorney's office, "At the time Hanning deployed his Taser, Mr. Clark posed no threat to either of the officers as he was not holding any weapon."
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.
During the incident, Clark asked "What is going on? I've done nothing wrong," to which Hanning replied, "You punched the girl... then you answered the door with a freaking machete, man," according to the affidavit. Clark responded, "No, that is absolutely false... I did not come after nobody... I was just in bed... I attacked nobody... I was just laying in bed... I did nothing," according to the affidavit.
Clark was never charged with a crime.
The affidavit was released a day after the attorney and Clark's family claimed in a press release that Hanning "tased, kicked, tackled, punched and choked" the unarmed and unclothed man in his apartment.
Schielke said the incident left Clark with heart complications, followed by a stroke and carotid surgery on his neck, as well as a burst appendix. At Wednesday's press conference, Schielke explained that Clark had a small brain bled that the hospital did not detect until six weeks later, after he had had a seizure at the dinner table with his family. He underwent emergency brains surgery.
Now at what doctors are calling "maximum improvement," Clark needs assistance with tasks he used to do independently — everything from cooking to using the restroom. He is wheelchair-bound, Schielke said.
On July 22, Clark's attorney released a full video of the body camera footage from that night, which is below.
Clark filed a federal lawsuit against Hanning, Summers, their supervising officer, Cpl. Richard Sonnenberg, and the Idaho Springs Police Department through the city on July 26, 2021. Sonnenberg was responsible for training the two officers. He watched both officers' body camera videos afterward, according to the lawsuit. The two officers were not pulled off-duty.
In the lawsuit, Clark claimed violations of his civil rights under federal and Colorado constitutions and that the department failed to train and supervise the officers, and that it has unconstitutional practices and policies.
It also claimed that Hanning and Summers never attempted to locate or contact a next of kin for Clark after the incident.
Hanning was charged with assault of an at-risk adult after an independent investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. He was fired from the department a few days later. Hanning pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in a deal offered by prosecutors in December 2021. The following January, he was sentenced to two years probation, 120 days of electronic home monitoring, and 150 hours of community service.
Summers received internal disciplinary action, per departmental policy regarding a policy violation, and resigned on Oct. 22, 2021.
Both Hanning and Summers are listed in a separate lawsuit filed by plaintiff Brady Mistic, who said the officers attacked him — slamming him to the ground — after he failed to comply with the officers’ verbal commands, because he could not hear them, during a traffic stop on Sept. 17, 2019 in Idaho Springs. Mistic is deaf. Hanning was also accused of breaking the rib of a 70-year-old in 2013 and had a history of excessive force incidents at both the Idaho Springs Police Department and Park County Sheriff's Office.
In October 2021, a group of people gathered at Citizens Park in downtown Idaho Springs to call for changes within the city's police department.