Police in Colorado are apologizing for detaining a group of young black girls, including two who were handcuffed, when their car was mistakenly identified as stolen during a trip to a nail salon.
Footage of the Sunday stop in an Aurora parking lot shows four children, aged 6 to 17, crying loudly as police order them to lie facedown on the parking lot.
Driver Brittney Gilliam told KUSA she took her younger sister, daughter and nieces to a salon when they realized it was closed and got back into their car. Police then surrounded them with their guns drawn, she told the station.
“He’s like something about the car being reported stolen,” Gilliam said. “And I’m like, ‘This happened months ago, you guys cleared it we got to pick up the car the next day the very next day, so I’m not understanding what’s going on.’”
Gilliam’s car was stolen in February but was found the next day. Police cited that as part of the “confusion” surrounding the stop, but Gilliam insists the incident was a case of “police brutality” and has filed a complaint with department officials.
“There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way,” Gilliam told KUSA. “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.”
Interim Police Chief Vanessa Wilson apologized to the family in a statement released Monday, saying officers are trained to conduct a “high-risk stop” when they come across a suspected stolen vehicle.
“This involves drawing their weapons and ordering all occupants to exit the car and lie prone on the ground,” Wilson said. “But we must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves. I have already directed my teams to look at new practices and training.”
Wilson also called Gilliam and her relatives to apologize, she said, and offered “age-appropriate therapy” to the children who may have been traumatized by the encounter.
Officers determined Gilliam’s car was not stolen and had been mistaken for a stolen motorcycle with the same license plate number from Montana, KUSA reports.
But the emotional trauma connected to the incident may be too much for one of the youngsters who was detained — Gilliam’s 14-year-old niece.
“It’s like they don’t care,” Teriana Thomas told KUSA. “Who am I going to call when my life is in danger?”
Gilliam has since hired an attorney in Denver following the incident, KUSA reports.