Brittney Gilliam was on a girls’ trip with her nieces, sister and daughter to get their nails done on Sunday morning when suddenly, in a parking lot, they were surrounded by police.
Police officers, according to a bystander and Gilliam’s lawyer, drew their guns and ordered the group of black women and girls to lie face down on the ground while handcuffing some of them, police and family said. .
Viewer video of the scene obtained by NBC Denver affiliate KUSA shows the group’s four girls on the ground, some of them handcuffed, crying and screaming as officers surround them.
Aurora Police said in a statement to NBC News that officers made a ‘road stop’ of Gilliam’s car believing it had been stolen because it shared a motorcycle’s license plate number stolen.
“The people in the car were ordered to get down and handcuff them,” Faith Goodrich, public information officer, said in the statement.
When officers in the Denver suburbs determined that the stolen motorcycle had plates from another state, they “did not handcuff everyone involved, made an effort to explain what had happened and apologized.” , Goodrich said.
In the video, one of the girls can be heard screaming “I want my mom” as her hands are held behind her.
“Can I have my sister next to me?” said another in the group that was selected. The girls were between 6 and 17 years old, KUSA reported.
The children were allowed to sit at one point while two of them still appear to have their hands held behind their backs. David Lane, a civil rights attorney representing the family, told NBC News that two of the girls were handcuffed, as was Gilliam, 29, who was placed in a police car.
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Jennifer Wurtz, the spectator who captured the incident on video, described what she saw at KUSA.
“I saw a car next to me with four girls in it, their feet on the dashboard; it was really cute, ”she says. “And the next thing I know, the police silently pull over and fire guns at the children.
The efforts to reach Wurtz were not immediately successful.
The police statement said police confusion may have been due in part to the fact that the car Gilliam was driving was reported stolen earlier this year.
But Gilliam told KUSA the car was recovered a day after it was reported stolen and that there was no reason the girls had to be handcuffed and forced to the ground.
“There’s no excuse you haven’t handled it in a different way,” said Gilliam, who filed a complaint on Sunday. “You could even have said to them, ‘Get on your side, let me ask your mother or your aunt a few questions so that we can clarify the situation. There were different ways of handling it. ”
Gilliam’s 14-year-old niece Teriana Thomas, who was among the family members who had guns on her, said the incident made her wonder if the police cared about her life and her security.
“It’s like they don’t care,” she said. “Who am I going to call when my life is in danger?” “
The Aurora Police statement said its officers are trained to perform a “high-risk stop” when stopping vehicles suspected of being stolen.
“During a high-risk stop, weapons are drawn and occupants are asked to get out of the car and lie on the ground,” the statement said. But the police acknowledged that there is no written policy on these arrests and that “the officers can exercise discretion according to the information available to them at the time”.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Monday, Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said she was asking her team to look into “new practices and new training.”
She also said she was looking to offer help to Gilliam’s family. “I have reached out to our victim advocates so that we can organize age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover,” she said.
Lane said the experience was deeply traumatic for the family and criticized Aurora police, who he said have a “culture of violence”.
“We have sued the Aurora police over the years dozens and dozens of times for this same type of behavior,” Lane said of his civil rights cabinet Killmer, Lane and Newman. “They are there to occupy and intimate, they are not there to serve and protect. “
Aurora police came to attention this summer when it emerged three police officers took selfies mocking the death of Elijah McClain, a young black massage therapist who died last summer after city police put him in a choke and injected him with ketamine while he was handcuffed.
The selfie photos were taken in October, according to KUSA. The three officers were fired on July 3 because of the incident.