Colorado police have issued an apology for drawing their guns on a Black family after mistaking the car for a stolen vehicle. A video of the arrest, which has been viewed over 1.4 million times since the incident on Sunday, shows five officers standing over the woman and children, who are face down in a parking lot. At least two of the children were in handcuffs.
Brittney Gilliam took her 12-year-old sister, six-year-old daughter, and 14- and 17-year-old nieces out to get their nails done in the suburban town of Aurora on Sunday. When they stopped to see if a salon was open, police approached the car, guns drawn, and ordered them to get on the pavement in the parking lot. Gilliam said police wouldn’t tell her why she was pulled over until after she was handcuffed. While she was separated for questioning, all four children are seen in the video on the pavement, visibly upset and crying.
Aurora police told Gilliam her car was stolen. She explained that her car had been stolen in February, but that it was found and returned to her the next day. Gilliam told CNN that she offered to show police the vehicle registration and insurance paperwork. According to a statement issued by Aurora’s interim chief of police, Vanessa Wilson, the license plate number on Gilliam’s blue SUV matched that of a stolen motorcycle from Montana. Gilliam said the mix-up did not justify forcing children to lie face down on the pavement and handcuffing them. She has since filed a complaint against the Aurora police department, reports the Washington Post.
"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," Gilliam told CNN.
On Monday, Wilson apologized and announced an internal investigation. "I have called [Gilliam's] 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." Gilliam’s 14-year-old niece Teriana told local news outlet, KUSA, that she doesn’t think the police could regain her trust. “It’s like they don’t care,” she said. “Who am I going to call when my life is in danger?”
In the statement, Wilson explained that officers were responding according to their training when approaching a suspected stolen vehicle. Officers responded with what they call a “high-risk stop,” which “involves drawing their weapons and ordering all occupants to exit the car and lie prone on the ground.” As part of the investigation, Wilson said police would also examine new practices and training for high-risk stops.
The incident marks the second highly-publicized incident for the Aurora police department in the past year, again drawing scrutiny over its treatment of Black people amid a larger national reckoning over police brutality. Nearly one year ago, the same police department arrested Elijah McClain and placed him in a chokehold before instructing paramedics to inject him with ketamine. McClain suffered from cardiac arrest before dying in hospital days later. The officers involved were cleared, but the case is under renewed scrutiny after it made national headlines during ongoing protests.