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Prosecutors reviewing actions of Aurora officers during mistaken traffic stop of Black family

Chief Wilson: "I not only welcome this review, but am fully cooperating"
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Posted at 1:15 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-07 16:58:30-04

DENVER – The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office is investigating whether Aurora police officers committed any crimes when they detained a Black woman and four children, handcuffing many of them, after mistaking their SUV for a stolen motorcycle with the same plate number from another state.

The district attorney’s office said that the Aurora Police Department and new APD Chief Vanessa Wilson are cooperating with the investigation.

The incident happened the morning of Aug. 2 in the parking lot of a shopping center near Buckley Road and E. Iliff Ave. in Aurora and has since garnered national attention – the latest incident involving Aurora police to do so.

Police had scanned the license plate of their SUV and got a hit on the plate number. But it turns out that the plate number belonged to a motorcycle from another state that had been reported stolen.

Aurora police detain Black family after mistaking their vehicle as stolen

Officers performed a high-risk traffic stop, believing the vehicle was stolen, and approached the vehicle and ordered the people inside out at gunpoint.

More than a dozen officers eventually arrived at the scene, and the woman and children were forced to lie face down on the hot pavement, many of them handcuffed for a time, until police officers realized their mistake.

A witness who recorded the incident filed a complaint with internal affairs, saying that police did nothing to secure the scene that day either while their weapons were still drawn.

Wilson said she had apologized to the family, asked internal affairs to open an investigation, and called for changes to training around high-risk stops.

“It’s just uncalled for. It shouldn’t have happened, and I wish we could take it back,” Wilson said in an interview Tuesday. “Just hearing those young children crying, it tears at your heart strings. I felt sick to my stomach.”

18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said the public accounts of the incident were “very concerning” and said that his office will charge any officers if they are determined to have committed a crime.

“My hope and our system’s obligation is for all citizens to be treated with dignity and respect during encounters with law enforcement officers,” Brauchler said. “I know Chief Wilson has also ordered an internal affairs investigation and is examining her agency’s training and procedures. That is appropriate, but that is separate from a criminal investigation.”

Wilson said in a statement that she was aware of the district attorney’s office’s review and that she would not have further comment due to the ongoing investigations.

“I also recognize and share the concern over what transpired which is why I have immediately ordered an internal affairs investigation,” Wilson said in the statement. “I have promised transparency to a community who not only demands it, but deserves it. I not only welcome this review, but am fully cooperating with the 18th Judicial Districts [sic] Attorney’s office.”

Democratic state lawmakers from Aurora issued a joint statement Friday afternoon about the latest incident and investigation:

To our Aurora Community:

When we passed first-in-the-nation legislation to enhance law enforcement accountability, we made clear that there was more work to do to bring justice to our communities and end police violence against people of color. Words cannot describe the outrage we, particularly as state legislators here in Aurora, felt watching APD, with their firearms drawn, handcuff black children and detain them on the hot pavement. Our hearts break for Ms. Gilliam and her family. This should never have happened, and we are looking at how to ensure oversight, accountability, and concrete action to prevent these types of incidents from happening again.

We expect policing in our communities to reflect our values. Far too often in Aurora, it has not. The Aurora Police Department needs a fresh start, and we are encouraged by the partnership we have started to build with Chief Wilson. We urge her to move quickly to transform the culture of the force, hold officers accountable, and bring much-needed reform to the department.