A black family, including four children, were detained at gunpoint by Colorado police in a parking lot after authorities say they mistakenly thought their car was stolen.
Footage of the incident posted on social media shows four children between the ages of six and 17 face down on the ground in a parking lot in Aurora. Some can be heard screaming and crying in distress while officers stand over them.
The 17-year-old and a 12-year-old were put in handcuffs, while the six-year-old and a 14-year-old were forced to lie on the ground face down, KUSA reported.
An officer eventually helps the 17-year-old and 12-year-old sit up but leaves them with their hands fastened behind their backs.
Aurora Police Officers said they had identified the vehicle as matching the licence plate number and description of a stolen car but later realised that they had made a mistake.
Brittney Gilliam, who identified herself as the driver of the vehicle, told KUSA that she had been taking her nieces, younger sister, and daughter to get their nails done. She condemned the actions as police brutality.
“There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way,“ Ms Gilliam said.
“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.”
Warning: this video contains footage that some may find upsetting.
Aurora PD handcuff and held family at gunpoint. pic.twitter.com/GkTWKFZqkI
— Joshua Rodriguez (@Joshuajered)
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson issued a statement regarding the incident on Monday evening, offering an apology to the family and saying that officers were carrying out a “high-risk stop”.
“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 team to look at new practices and training,” Chief Wilson said.
She also said that she had called the family personally to apologise and that the city would be covering counselling to the children involved who she admitted may have been “traumatised”.
APD said the confusion over the stolen vehicle may have arisen from the fact that the vehicle mistakenly stopped was reported stolen earlier this year. Ms Gilliam told KUSA that her car was stolen in February but was found the next day.
A motorcycle with the same licence plate number from a different state turned out to be the vehicle that had been reported as stolen.
An internal investigation has been opened into the incident, Chief Wilson said.
The APD is already facing serious questions over its treatment of black people, particularly over the death of Elijah McClain, which took place almost a year ago.
The 23-year-old, who was described by his family as “gentle”, died in August 2019 three days after he was put in a chokehold and then later sedated while being detained by police and paramedics. McClain had been walking home from a store when someone reported him to the police for looking "sketchy". He had been wearing a ski mask which his family said he often wore because he had anaemia and would get cold.
Last month, three police officers from the department were put on paid leave after a photo emerged of them posing near the site where McClain died.
According to KUSA, Ms Gilliam is now being represented by David Lane, a prominent Denver lawyer and law partner of Mari Newman who represents McClain's family.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.