Colorado’s Aurora Police Department recently launched an internal investigation after officers decided to draw their firearms on a local Black family and place young children in handcuffs during a weekend traffic stop that saw their car mistaken for a stolen vehicle.
The incident unfolded Sunday at around 11 a.m. local time, moments after the targeted family returned to their SUV once their nail salon trip was cut short on account of the establishment being closed.
Within seconds of the family jumping back into the vehicle, several Aurora police officers encircled it with guns drawn. Video of the shocking arrest was captured by local resident Jennifer Wurtz and begins after cops placed the family – including two of the four children between the ages of 6 and 17 – in handcuffs.
Video shows all of the kids lying facedown on the ground, crying and calling out for their mom, dad and sister as at least five officers are seen standing over them. “I want my father,” one of the children can be heard saying, as another pleads with officers to have their sister nearer.
Toward the end of the video, as officers then decide to allow the kids to sit upright, Wurtz remarks that the situation developing before her eyes “is some bulls**t.” The video ultimately cuts off with one of the kids asking for her aunt’s phone so that she can call a relative.
Brittney Gilliam, who identified herself as the driver of the misidentified SUV, told local news station 9News that the Sunday was meant to be filled with laughs as the family headed out to a nail salon. Instead, the family was confronted by cops who said “something about the car being reported stolen,” she recalled.
It’s worth noting that Gilliam’s SUV was reported stolen in February, but was tracked down by police a day later. At the time, the situation was settled, and law enforcement officials allowed Gilliam to retrieve her vehicle.
When Gilliam was confronted by officers, she believed that there was a misunderstanding and that the cops were referring to the February report. However, Gilliam later came to find out that there was indeed a misunderstanding, one that involved Aurora cops mistaking her Colorado license plate for another registered to a stolen motorcycle in Montana with the exact same numbers, according to 9News.
“There’s no excuse why [the cops] didn’t handle it a different type of way,” Gilliam told the outlet. “You could have even told [the kids] ‘Step off to the side, let me ask your mom or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up.’”
“There was different ways to handle it,” she stressed.
Once the matter was cleared up, officers removed the restraints, apologized and explained the situation to the family. Before leaving the scene, the family spoke to a lieutenant with the force and filed a complaint.
Vanessa Wilson, the chief of the Aurora Police Department, issued a statement on the weekend incident Monday, offering another apology and revealing that the force would be initiating an internal investigation.
“I have called the family to apologize and to offer any help we can provide, especially for the children who may have been traumatized by yesterday’s events,” Wilson wrote. “I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.”
The police chief explained that Aurora officers are trained to perform what the department refers to as a “high-risk stop” during incidents regarding stolen vehicles. The tactic involves cops drawing their weapons and ordering all occupants to exit the car and lie on the ground.
Wilson further indicated that moving forward, the department will be looking into “new practices and training” for such cases.
The weekend incident is just the latest troubling altercation involving Aurora cops and the city’s Black community. Earlier this year, the department was confronted by calls to action after the 2019 case of Elijah McClain gained renewed attention following the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd. McClain died after paramedics injected him with a deadly dose of a heavy sedative, moments after officers tackled the 23-year-old and placed him in a chokehold.