A Colorado district attorney has launched an investigation into officers with the Aurora Police Department after they mistakenly detained a black family at gunpoint and forced four frightened children onto the ground.
Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler declared in a statement that no one, not even police officers, are above the law.
‘Public accounts of the incident in a parking lot near Iliff and Buckley are very concerning,’ wrote Brauchler, The Denver Post reports.
‘Everyone is entitled to be treated equally under the law. No one is above the law. If our investigation determines that the officers involved committed a crime, I will not hesitate to file charges and prosecute them.’
The incident unfolded last Sunday when Brittney Gilliam drove her six-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister and two nieces, aged 14 and 17, to a nail salon in Aurora.
The group was approached in the parking lot by at least five officers who drew their firearms and handcuffed some of them.
Authorities said they mistakenly pulled over Gilliam’s SUV after a stolen vehicle report listed matching license plates. They later said they had stopped the wrong car and were actually looking for a motorcycle with the same license plate number from Montana.
Video of the children crying and desperately pleading for their mothers sparked outrage.
It is the latest blow to the Aurora Police Department after the police-involved death of Elijah McClain cast them into the national spotlight amid anti-racism protests.
The DA’s investigation into officers’ response will be separate from the criminal investigation.
Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said the department is cooperating with the investigation and, in fact, she welcomes it.
‘I also recognize and share the concern over what transpired which is why I immediately ordered an internal affairs investigation,’ the statement said.
‘I have promised transparency to a community who not only demands it, but deserves it.’
Earlier this week, Wilson announced that she would review the department’s training and protocols due to the incident.
She admitted to The Denver Post that dispatched officers made two mistakes in their handling and detainment of the family.
Firstly, they did not verify the license plate number in the National Crime Information Center to double check the information on the stolen motorcycle.
Secondly, the officer should not have made the children lie on the ground despite the department’s policy to treat stolen vehicle interactions as high-risk.
According to Wilson, the officers should have thoroughly assessed the situation and adjusted their actions.
After the incident was revealed, Wilson issued an apology to the family on behalf of the department.
‘We have been training our officers that when they contact a suspected stolen car, they should do what is called a high-risk stop,’ she wrote.
‘This involves drawing their weapons and ordering all occupants to exit the car and 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.
‘I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.
In response, Gilliam and her family released their own statement that called for reform at the Aurora Police Department.
‘We expect policing in our communities to reflect our values. Far too often in Aurora, it has not,’ the statement read.
‘The Aurora Police Department needs a fresh start, and we are encouraged by the partnership we have started to build with Chief Wilson.
‘We urge her to move quickly to transform the culture of the force, hold officers accountable, and bring much-needed reform to the department.’
Additionally, Gilliam told The Denver Post that such an incident would never have happened to a white family,
Now, Gilliam said she understands the Black Lives Matter and anti-racism protesters who have called for the police department to be reformed.
A reckoning against the Aurora Police Department, and the law enforcement institution as a whole, sparked three months ago when George Floyd was killed in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.
The viral footage of Floyd pleading ‘I can’t breathe’ while a white officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes galvanized Americans to protest police brutality.
The family, who has filed a complaint, is now being represented by Denver attorney David Lane, the law partner of McClain’s family lawyer Mari Newman, according to 9News.
McClain was placed in a lethal chokehold by Aurora police officers on August 24, 2019, after he had been stopped while walking home at night.
Police were called to the scene after receiving reports of a man wearing a ski mask ‘acting sketchy’ and flailing his arms.
McClain, a massage therapist described by friends and family as an ‘oddball, vegetarian, athlete, and peacemaker’ who loved animals, was handcuffed and placed in a carotid control hold, restricting his bloodflow, before losing consciousness.
Paramedics later sedated him with ketamine, sending him into cardiac arrest. He was declared brain dead and removed from life support six days later.