DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado police chief apologized on Tuesday to family members of four Black girls, one as young as 6, who were held on the ground at gunpoint over the weekend by officers who mistakenly believed they were riding in a stolen car, an incident caught on videotape.
The video footage, shot by a bystander and broadcast on local television, shows the girls, ages 6, 12, 14 and 17, on the ground with several police officers of the Denver suburb of Aurora standing over them.
The car was being driven by Brittney Gilliam, 27, the mother of the 6-year-old. Gilliam is shown in the video being handcuffed by police.
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson apologized to the family and said she was reviewing a department policy requiring that officers draw their weapons and order occupants of suspected stolen vehicles to lie prone during “high-risk” stops.
“We must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves,” Wilson, Aurora’s first female police chief, said.
Wilson said the city would pay for any counseling the girls needed following the incident.
The Aurora Police Department is already facing state and federal investigations over the August 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after three policemen subdued him and paramedics injected him with the sedative ketamine.
“If there ever was a police department that needs to be de-funded, abolished and rebuilt from the ground up, it’s Aurora,” said David Lane, an attorney for family members of the girls.
Protesters who took to the streets following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer have called for police agencies nationwide to be defunded.
The weekend incident in Aurora stemmed from an erroneous report that Gilliam, her nieces, sister and daughter were in a stolen car, Lane said.
The attorney said he will seek a legal settlement with the city, but that if negotiations prove unsuccessful “it’s off to court we go.”
Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Leslie Adler
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