A woman is suing the city of Aurora, Colorado, after police officers drew guns on her and four minors last year after mistaking her car for one that had been stolen.
Brittney Gilliam was taking her 6-year-old daughter, 17-year-old sister and 14- and 12-year-old nieces to get their nails done last August and were in a parking lot when officers with the Aurora Police Department ordered them out of their vehicle and onto the ground at gunpoint. Gilliam said she, her sister and 12-year-old niece were handcuffed while police verified that the car she was driving was not stolen.
The family filed a lawsuit against the department Monday.
“All Plaintiffs were seized and searched — at gunpoint — without probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe they, or indeed, that any one of them, had committed any crime,” the lawsuit states. “All were the victims of excessive force by Officer Defendants and all were targeted because they are Black.”
At the time, there was a stolen motorcycle with the same plate information, but from a different state, police said. The confusion may have been due, in part, to the fact that Gilliam’s car had been reported stolen earlier in the year but it had been cleared up, police said in August.
After realizing the mistake, officers immediately unhandcuffed everyone involved, explained what happened and apologized, they said.
At this time, the officers involved are still on patrol, police said.
Gilliam and her family are seeking economic and compensatory damages to be established at trial, a formal written apology from each defendant, police policy changes and mandatory training designed to avoid something like the incident happening in the future and disciplinary action against “appropriate employees of Aurora,” according to the lawsuit.
The city said in a statement it has not been served with the lawsuit and declined to comment on pending litigation. But the statement added, “City leadership and Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson have previously expressed that this incident is not reflective of their expectations for the Aurora Police Department.”
“Chief Wilson has apologized to Ms. Gilliam directly and offered to cover the cost of providing age-appropriate therapy to the children involved,” the statement said. “Though the officers followed protocol and adhered to their training at the time of the incident, Chief Wilson and city leadership recognized officers need to have discretion and the ability to deviate from that process when different scenarios present themselves. Aurora has since adjusted its training practices by allowing officers to have more discretion when contacting suspected stolen vehicles.”
In a witness video provided by Gilliam’s attorney, the family is seated on the ground in a parking lot, surrounded by police. They can be heard crying in the video, while onlookers try to intervene and question police about pulling their guns on the girls.
“Plaintiffs bring this action to seek accountability from the Officer Defendants and their commanders who work within a police department that is out of control in its racism and brutality, as well as in an attempt to restore the humanity taken from these young girls and Ms. Gilliam,” the lawsuit says.
The Aurora Police Department declined to comment on those accusations.
The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office under George Brauchler reviewed the incident and this month declined to file charges against any of the involved officers.
“Despite the disturbing fact that terrified children were ordered out of a vehicle at gunpoint and placed face-down on the ground, our conclusion is that there is not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the APD officers involved unlawfully, intentionally, knowingly, or negligently violated any Colorado criminal law,” the DA’s office said in a January 7 letter to Wilson, concerning the review. “It is our hope, however, that APD will immediately undertake a review of their policies to try and ensure that nothing of this sort ever happens again.”
Brauchler, the DA, was term-limited and voters in November elected John Kellner as the new district attorney.
Following the DA office’s review, the Aurora Police Department re-opened an internal affairs investigation of the incident which has not yet completed, the Aurora Police Department said.