US & Canada

Colorado police apologise for detaining mother and children

Aurora Police maintains a secure perimeter around the movie theater a day after mass shooting in 2012 in Aurora, Colorado Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Aurora police have aologised for the arrests (file picture)

Police in Colorado have apologised for pulling guns on a black woman and four children they mistakenly arrested.

Video of Aurora officers detaining Brittney Gilliam, along with her six-year-old daughter, nieces aged 14 and 17, and sister, 12, has drawn outrage.

It comes amid a national debate over police tactics and systemic racism.

The police department said the officers mistakenly believed Ms Gilliam's car had been stolen and had been trained to perform a "high-risk stop".

The department has launched an investigation and will cover the cost of therapy for the children.

How did the incident unfold?

The family had been out to visit a nail salon on Sunday, and were returning to their car after finding the salon closed.

Officers approached the vehicle with guns drawn as the family got into the car.

In the footage posted by witnesses on social media, officers can be seen surrounding the car as all four girls lie face-down in the parking lot.

Ms Gilliam, her 12-year-old sister, and her 17-year-old niece, were also handcuffed.

The children can be heard crying and calling for their mother as witnesses question police about the situation. The video has been viewed over four million times as of Tuesday.

How have the police responded?

After realising the error, police said they released everyone, explained the situation and apologised.

They said the car's licence plate had matched the number of a stolen vehicle, but from a different state. They said the misunderstanding may have also been in part due to the fact that Ms Gilliam's car had been reported stolen earlier in the year.

On Monday, Aurora Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson issued an apology for the incident.

Ms Wilson said when officers believe a vehicle is stolen, they are trained to draw their weapons and order all occupants to exit the car and lie prone on the ground.

"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."

She said she had called the family to apologise and offer help - "especially for the children who may have been traumatised by yesterday's events".

"I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover."

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Ms Wilson, who was previously Aurora's interim police chief, was selected for the role permanently on Monday night. She is the first woman to hold the job.

Ms Gilliam told CBS Denver on Monday she did not want a police apology.

"I want change," she said. "Better protocol, better procedures because the way you did it yesterday was not it."

She added that the children were not okay. "Would your kids be okay after that? Having a gun pulled on them and laid on the ground. Especially a six-year-old."

The Aurora police department has also faced criticism for the August 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who died in police custody.

Mr McClain was put in a chokehold by officers. He was eventually sedated by a medic who then noted he had no pulse. Days later, he was declared brain dead.

A coroner's autopsy found the cause of death to be undetermined. The officers were cleared of wrongdoing months later.

Mr McClain's case has seen renewed focus following George Floyd's death and the ensuing protests against racism and police violence. The state governor has appointed a special prosecutor to review the case.

In July, Aurora police banned the chokehold used on Mr McClain. New rules also say officers must intervene if they see a colleague using excessive force.

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