A group of Aurora cops ordered four Black girls — the youngest being a 6-year-old — to lie on the pavement face-down Sunday, as they wailed and pleaded for their mother, according to a bystander video that went viral. They had been inside a car that officers believed to be stolen.
But it turned out the officers had the wrong vehicle, and the Aurora Police Department has since apologized.
The driver of the vehicle, Brittney Gilliam, said she was originally taking the group of girls — which included her younger sister, daughter, and two nieces — to the nail salon. She had just realized it was closed when officers swarmed the car and held the family at gunpoint, according to KUSA, an NBC affiliate in Denver.
The oldest minor inside was just 17 years old. She and a 12-year-old were handcuffed with their hands pinned behind their backs on the concrete, according to the Associated Press. The other girls, including the 6-year-old, were lying next to them on their stomachs, with their hands placed on the ground. Gilliam was also handcuffed.
Once the officers realized their mistake, they uncuffed the girls and Gilliam.
"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,’” Gilliam told KUSA. “There was different ways to handle it."
In a statement posted to Twitter late Monday, Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said the department is sorry for the “traumatic” incident it stoked Sunday morning after the officers were alerted to a possible stolen vehicle.
The family’s blue SUV had a license plate number that matched a stolen motorcycle, but it wasn’t from the right state, according to KUSA. A spokesperson for the Aurora Police Department also said a license plate reader had given the description of the SUV, and that an internal investigation could help determine why.
Wilson added that the officers, per their training when they encounter a suspected stolen vehicle, conducted a “high-risk stop,” which entails drawing their guns and ordering those in the car to lie prone on the ground.
“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.”
The family’s vehicle had also been reported stolen earlier in the year, which Wilson said may have added to the confusion. Gilliam told KUSA that her car was found the next day.
The department has since opened an internal investigation, according to Wilson. It’s also determined that officers should be allowed the option to “deviate” from the high-risk stop training when “different scenarios present themselves.” Wilson is looking into new protocols and training.
The Aurora Police Department has been plagued by other controversies and protests — most notably, the death of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who died after being arrested in August 2019, when someone reported him to be suspicious because he was wearing a ski mask and waving his arms. Family members have since said he donned the mask to keep warm. Aurora’s city council approved an independent investigation into the incident last month.
Officers placed McClain in a carotid hold as he cried, vomited, and pleaded that he couldn’t breathe and that he was just “different.” Paramedics injected him with ketamine. He later went into cardiac arrest, and died in the hospital when he was taken off life support.
Officers later took photos “re-enacting” his arrest. Three were fired last month — including Officer Jason Rosenblatt, who was involved in McClain’s arrest, saw the photo, and responded “ha ha” — but all plan to appeal their terminations, according to KCNC, a Denver CBS affiliate. A fourth officer resigned over the incident.