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On August 2, 2020, Brittney Gilliam and four members of her family, ages six to seventeen, were ambushed by Aurora police officers who mistakenly believed the parked vehicle they were sitting in had been stolen. The video of the incident, dominated by images of black children sprawled covertly in a parking lot after guns were pointed in their faces, soon went nationwide.
The result was a major embarrassment for Aurora, who was already engaged in brutal public relations related to the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, which was again the focus of attention after protests against the Minneapolis-based George Floyd murder.
Now Gilliam is suing Aurora City, Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and five named officers over the incident, and Denver attorney David Lane, who also represents McClain’s family, says David Lane, of Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, says the complaint is a complaint ” Game changer. “
The reason? It is the first such lawsuit filed since Colorado’s pioneering police reform legislation last year. This law changes many of the rules that previously governed such legal proceedings, and allows the decision to be shifted from the federal system to one rooted in Colorado – in this case, the Arapahoe District Court.
“It does away with the defense of qualified immunity,” Lane explains, “where a federal judge can say,” Well, this is a violation of the Constitution, but there is no similar case that has ever been tried in a lawsuit, so the one gets the Police immunity. “That’s not going to happen here. And we have an Aurora jury reviewing the case before a federal jury, not a federal jury. That means the pool reflects the racist makeup of Arapahoe County much more than a federal jury because federal juries do Coming all over the state there is an abundance of whites. In Aurora, we should have a jury that is much more diverse. “
On August 2, Gilliam, a food service worker in Denver County Jail, was attending a nail salon in Iliff Crossing, Aurora, with her six-year-old daughter, sister, in Iliff Crossing, Aurora, which the lawsuit called a “fun family outing.” Age seventeen and two nieces, age twelve and fourteen. Upon discovering the salon was closed, Gilliam parked her sport utility vehicle and started looking for a similar facility nearby on her cell phone.
Before they could head to a new destination, however, an Aurora police cruiser pulled up behind Gilliam’s SUV and two officers showed up with guns drawn. It was not long before Gilliam and the children were ordered out of the car and had to “lie on their stomach with outstretched and flat hands,” according to the complaint.
Here’s a look at the witness video of the scene:
Everyone was searched, and Gilliam was handcuffed and placed in the back of the police car while the kids freaked out. She wasn’t released until officers discovered that the license plate they were looking for actually corresponded to a motorcycle in Montana.
Lane believes that the incident embodies everything that is wrong with current policing.
“You have to put it in context with what’s going on in America today,” he says. “You are an African American child and you know the police routinely kill unarmed African American children. So when the Aurora Police pulls guns on you for doing absolutely nothing but sitting in your car with your family laugh and you’re six or twelve or fourteen or seventeen, that’s a cause for concern. “
He insists, “These children are all in therapy now. They were tremendously traumatized. They thought they would be shot and die, all because these cops were too lazy to do a check to make sure this car was stolen . And even if it’s stolen, who brings a six-year-old child to the ground at gunpoint? That’s why this is such an egregious case. The parents I’ve spoken to are as outraged by this case as anyone else I’ve been in lately had memory. “
Gilliam “was damaged as a result,” Lane emphasizes. “She felt extremely helpless. Her family was crying and screaming for help and there was nothing they could do to short this out. She tried to show the police her registration to show the license plate and car matched, but they were correct agreed didn’t want to see it. So she was traumatized and the children were traumatized. This was a life changer for everyone. “
In response to the lawsuit, Aurora city spokesman Ryan Luby highlighted “ongoing reviews of the Aurora Police Department’s practices and procedures,” adding that “Aurora city officials and police chief Vanessa Wilson have previously voiced that this incident does not reflect their expectations of the Aurora Police Department. Chief Wilson apologized directly to Ms. Gilliam and offered to pay the cost of providing age-appropriate therapy to the affected children. “
Click here for Brittney Gilliam et al., V. City of Aurora et al.
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Michael Roberts has been writing for Westword since October 1990 and has worked as a music editor and media columnist. It currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.