Colorado's Aurora Police Department publicly apologized after video went viral of a Black mother and four children being forced to lie face-down in a parking lot after officers mistook their SUV for a stolen vehicle.
“Why are you now placing these children on the ground, face into the concrete? It's hot! In front of all of us? Screaming at them? They are telling you they are hurt,” bystander Jenni Wurtz told The Denver Channel.
Wurtz, one of several witnesses who videotaped the encounter with their cellphones, said she filed a complaint over the woman and children being detained.
The kids, who range in age from 6 to 17, can be seen lying on their stomachs in a parking lot, as they scream and cry for help. Some of them were handcuffed.
Brittney Gilliam was with her 6-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister and 14- and 17-year-old nieces Sunday when police approaced them with guns drawn. Gilliam said she, the 12-year-old and the 17-year-old were handcuffed by police, who later said they were investigating a stolen vehicle report.
Gilliam said she tried to explain that her SUV had been stolen in February, but it was found and returned to her by the Aurora Police the next day, she told CNN. The officers also said they had mistaken her vehicle for an out-of-state stolen vehicle report. The latter report had license plate information similar to Gilliam's, they said, but the vehicle was actually a motorcycle, the department later acknowledged.
"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," Aurora Interim Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson said late Monday I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.
"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," she added. "But we must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves," Wilson said. "I have already directed my team to look at new practices and training."
The Aurora Police Department had recently come under fire for the 2019 in-custody death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who was stopped by three white officers while walked home from a store.
He was placed in a chokehold and briefly passed out, according to authorities. Paramedics injected him with ketamine, a powerful sedative, to calm him, police said.
McClain suffered a heart attack while in an ambulance and was declared brain dead three days later, authorities said.
The police department fired the three officers involved. Colorado's health department is investigating the paramedic's use of ketamine.