Police in Aurora, Colo., have apologized for a viral video that shows officers detaining a Black woman and four children at gunpoint after mistaking their van for a stolen motorcycle from another state.
The video shows officers ordering the four girls to lie on the pavement. Police can be seen handcuffing a 12-year-old and a 17-year-old in the video while the other children, ages six and 14, scream and cry. Police also handcuffed the driver, Brittney Gilliam.
Witness Jennifer Wurtz, who recorded the video, says police drew their guns and approached the car before she started filming.
Officers eventually realized that they had the wrong vehicle, so they uncuffed everyone and apologized.
The Aurora Police Department apologized on Monday for what it said was a case of mistaken identity. Police say the family van had the same licence plate number as a motorcycle reported stolen earlier that day. However, the van’s plates were from Colorado, while the motorcycle plates were from Montana.
Police did not apologize for the officers’ tactics during the incident, citing the “high risk” nature of traffic stops involving stolen vehicles.
Gilliam, who was taking her sister, daughter and two nieces to the nail salon, accused police of brutality for the unnecessary stop.
“There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way,” she told KUSA-TV. “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.”
Aurora police have been under intense scrutiny over the last year following the death of Elijah McClain, a Black massage therapist whom officers confronted while he was walking home last August. Police were responding to a call of a “suspicious” person at the time, and they eventually put McClain in a chokehold and injected him with a sedative. He went into cardiac arrest and later died in hospital.
The case became a focal point of discussion this summer amid nationwide protests about police brutality in the wake of George Floyd‘s death.
On Monday, police said that officers are trained to draw their weapons and order suspects to lie prone when conducting a “high-risk stop” involving a potentially stolen vehicle. However, newly minted Chief Vanessa Wilson also said officers must be allowed discretion to deviate from that approach under certain scenarios. She says the department will look into the incident to develop new training for such circumstances.
“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 in her statement on Monday. “I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.”
Police say the vehicle in question was reported stolen earlier this year, which may have added to the confusion.
Gilliam says her vehicle was stolen back in February and found the next day.
“You guys cleared it,” she said of the police.
Gilliam has retained a lawyer following the incident.