The department issued an apology to the family Monday after a video of the incident went viral on social media showing four young Black girls—who range from 6 to 17 years old—laying facedown in a parking lot.
Content warning: This report contains details of racism and police brutality that readers may find disturbing
What was supposed to be a fun girls' day out Sunday turned into a traumatic experience for the Gilliam family after they were handcuffed at gunpoint by the police in a mistaken traffic stop. Aurora, Colorado, police issued an apology to the family Monday after a video of the incident went viral on social media showing four young Black girls—who range from 6 to 17 years old—laying facedown in a parking lot. "I want my mother," one of them can be heard wailing in the video, gasping for air between sobs.
According to CNN, Brittney Gilliam was taking her 6-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister, and 14- and 17-year old nieces to get their nails done on Sunday morning when the incident occurred. Just as her niece was getting back into the car after discovering that the nail salon they were hoping to go to was closed, Aurora police pulled up behind her vehicle with guns drawn and ordered them to put their hands out of the window, said Gilliam. When the family got out of the vehicle upon their instruction, they were told to lay face down on the ground.
The cops then handcuffed Gilliam, her sister, and her niece. They refused to tell her why she was pulled over until she was handcuffed, said Gilliam, and when they did, they told her that her car was stolen. She told them her vehicle has been stolen in February, but that it was cleared up. In fact, it was returned to her the next day by the Aurora Police. When asked why the kids were being handcuffed, she was told officers handcuff kids when they get hostile. "If you wanted to place me in handcuffs at that point, I would have gladly agreed to that because you had a job to do and you did it under the right protocol, but you pointed a gun at four kids and then you proceeded to start handcuffing the kids," she said.
That @AuroraPD treated this family like this, even after #ElijahMcClain, is further proof that the Aurora PD requires an aggressive overhaul and intervention from external experts on community and nonviolence. And #ReimaginePublicSafety. @denverpost https://t.co/D3nbKRoyPE— Be A King (@BerniceKing) August 4, 2020
"That’s police brutality. There’s no excuse 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 was different ways to handle it." The department's interim chief, Vanessa Wilson, said in a statement that while drawing weapons is in the department's policy when police believe a car has been stolen, officers must be allowed to deviate from the written procedure when the situation calls for it. "We have been training our officers that when they contact a suspected stolen car, they should do what is called a high-risk stop. This involves drawing their weapons and ordering all occupants to exit the car and lie prone on the ground. But we must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves," she said.
Aurora PD handcuff and held family at gunpoint. pic.twitter.com/GkTWKFZqkI— Joshua Rodriguez (@Joshuajered) August 3, 2020
"I have already directed my team to look at new practices and training," added Wilson, who was appointed as the city's permanent police chief on Monday night. As per the statement, officers were alerted to a possible stolen vehicle just before 11 a.m. Sunday and stopped a vehicle matching the license plate and description. "Shortly after that, officers determined that the car was not stolen. There is a stolen vehicle with the same plate information but from a different state. The confusion may have been due, in part, to the fact that the stopped car was reported stolen earlier in the year," the statement said. However, according to the Associated Press, the stolen vehicle was a motorcycle.
Statement regarding yesterday's car stop at Iliff and Buckley. pic.twitter.com/rNIJhRjUOu— Chief Vanessa Wilson (@APDChiefWilson) August 4, 2020
"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 said. "I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover." But Teriana Thomas, Gilliam's 14-year-old niece and one of the girls who had been pinned down, said there was little the police could do to help her now. "It’s like they don't care," she said. "Who am I going to call when my life is in danger?"
The Aurora Police Department recently came under severe scrutiny after the Black Lives Matter movement brought renewed attention to the in-custody death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old who was walking home from a convenience store in August of last year. Three officers involved in his death have since been fired and Colorado's health department has launched an investigation into responding paramedics' administration of ketamine, a powerful anesthetic drug before his death.
When police murdered Elijah McClain by injecting him with a lethal dose of ketamine after placing him in handcuffs & a chokehold, they claimed he was exhibiting signs of "excited delirium."— African American Policy Forum (@AAPolicyForum) August 4, 2020
To them, excited delirium was an excuse to kill a Black person.https://t.co/tctCinT6mq