Police in Aurora, Colorado, are under fire after they were caught on video detaining a Black family traveling in an SUV — and handcuffing the children, ages 6 to 17, at gunpoint.
On Sunday morning, officers stopped Brittany Gilliam’s SUV as she was looking for an open nail salon. They approached the SUV with their guns drawn, and forced Gilliam — as well as 4 children — out of the vehicle.
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Aurora police handcuffed Gilliam, her 12-year-old sister, and her 17-year-old niece. They also had a 14-year-old niece and Gilliam’s 6-year-old daughter lie face-down on the concrete.
The entire scene was caught on video by bystanders. The children can be heard screaming and crying throughout the incident.
As it turned out, it was a mistaken traffic stop. Aurora police tell CBS 4 Denver that Gilliam’s SUV had the same license plate number as a stolen motorcycle — but the vehicle was from a different state. Police say this was a “high risk” stop and that approaching with their guns drawn was standard procedure.
But Gilliam is furious — and says the officers should have done things very differently.
“There’s no excuse for why you didn’t handle it a different type of way,” Gilliam told 9News. “You could have even told them, ‘Step off to the side, let me ask your mom or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up.’ There were different ways to handle it.”
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In a statement, Aurora Police apologized to Gilliam and her family.
“We first want to offer our apologies to the family involved in the traumatic incident involving a police stop of their vehicle yesterday,” reads the statement from interim police chief Vanessa Wilson, according to ABC-7 News. “I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.”
Wilson acknowledges that standard procedure involves approaching the vehicle with their guns drawn and making all occupants lie on the ground. “But we must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves,” she writes. “I have already directed my team to look at new practices and training.”
The incident has shone a national spotlight on the Aurora Police Department for the second time this year. The agency was previously under fire for the killing of Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man who died after an encounter with Aurora police officers last August.
McClain, 23, was returning from a store wearing a ski mask. Officers put him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with a sedative. He had a heart attack and died six days later.
The agency’s apology for holding Gilliam’s family at gunpoint is not enough for her, she says.
“I don’t accept their apology,” she tells ABC 7 News, adding that the children now are fearful of the police. “Get a new damn policy.”