'Sick To My Core': Aurora Police Chief Apologizes...
The police chief in Aurora, Colo., has apologized after officers handcuffed children and reportedly drew their weapons on a Black family — an incident that was captured on video Sunday, and which renewed criticisms that the department is racially insensitive and disconnected from its community.
The woman and four girls had been wrongly detained, police later acknowledged.
"I want to reach out and just tell the family I am terribly sorry. I am sick to my core that these children were traumatized the way they were," Chief Vanessa Wilson said on Tuesday in an interview with member station KUNC.
Police say the officers approached Brittney Gilliam's car under the belief that it had been reported stolen. Gilliam had been taking with daughter, 6; sister, 12; and two nieces ages 14 and 17; to get their nails done at a salon Sunday morning. When police approached, they were sitting in a parking lot where the salon is located.
Their car was not actually stolen – but before police made that determination, the officers handcuffed Gilliam and two of the girls. Nearby, a woman recorded the encounter on her phone, showing the officers standing over the children.
"The video shows four children, ages 6 to 17, face down on asphalt surrounded by police officers," Colorado Public Radio's Hayley Sanchez reports for NPR. "Two are handcuffed and a child is crying for her mother. The witness who recorded the video says the officers surrounded the family's vehicle and drew their guns."
In an interview with local TV outlet 9News, Gilliam said of the officers, "There's no excuse why you didn't handle it a different type of way."
Referring to the children who were present, she added, "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."
The officers were following the Aurora department's policy for approaching suspected stolen vehicles, Wilson said in an apology she issued Monday night. Wilson said there was confusion over the vehicle's status because its license plate matched a stolen vehicle's information. But she acknowledges that the officers should have used their discretion to determine that it did not qualify as a "high-risk stop."
The video of the encounter, the chief said, is disturbing.
"It's very hard to watch and listen to," Wilson told KUNC. "It shouldn't have happened," she added. "Someone should have said, 'Time out, let's stop what we're doing. Yes, we normally do felony stops, but this is not the time or the place and it's not appropriate in this instance.' And that didn't happen."
Wilson apologized for the encounter on the same day Aurora's city council voted to approve her appointment as Aurora's full-time chief. She had been serving on an interim basis since January, leading an agency that has faced months of protests and ongoing investigations into the death of Elijah McClain, a young Black man who died after being detained by police.
Discussing the changes she would like to see the department to adopt, Wilson said she wants training classes to be adjusted to help officers be sensitive to implicit bias and treat people "with the dignity and respect they deserve."
Saying she wants officers to "not be robotic" in following procedures, Wilson added, "I hope the community knows that I'm serious about change, and I'm serious about moving this agency forward, and hopefully healing in the community as best we can."