Colorado city pays $1.9 million to black family illegally detained by police

Five members of a black family wrongly arrested at gunpoint in Aurora, Colo., in 2020 by police who traded their SUV for a stolen vehicle have been awarded $1.9 million to settle a lawsuit against the city, the family’s attorney said Monday. .

The family — Brittney Gilliam, then 29, her daughter, who was 6, her sister, who was 12, and two nieces, then 17 and 14 — had gone to get their nails done when they Aurora Police Department officers ordered him to the ground and handcuffed the two girls, authorities said at the time.

A widely distributed video of the episode showed four children lying on the ground in a parking lot, crying and screaming as several police officers stood over them, sparking further outrage at a department already mired in controversy over the 2019 death of a black man and its use. excessive forces.

The settlement was reached several months ago, but remains confidential because children are involved, attorney David Lane said by phone Monday. It was split equally between Ms Gilliam, her nephews, sister and daughter, he added, noting that the younger children would have to wait until they turned 18 to access their share.

It’s a settlement, said Mr. Lane, helped to avoid re-traumatizing children during testimony or trial, and to draw attention to the expensive nature of handling similar cases — something the city has done several times in recent years following allegations that police officers used excessive force.

From 2003 to 2018, the city settled at least 11 police brutality cases for a total of $4.6 million, according to the ACLU of Colorado. In 2021, the city agreed to pay Elijah McClain’s family $15 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit over the 2019 police standoff that ended his life.

A state investigation Aurora Police Department practices also found a pattern of racially biased policing, excessive force and failure to record legally required information when interacting with the community — all of which, the investigation found, violated state and federal laws.

The city of Aurora confirmed the settlement in an email Monday. His police department, the city added, “remains committed to strengthening relationships with the community through accountability and continuous improvement in the way it serves the public.”

Months after the wrongful stop of a stolen car, prosecutors in Colorado said they would not charge the two officers who drew their guns and handcuffed some of the family members, saying they did not find enough evidence to file criminal charges. Associated Press registered that one of the officials was suspended for 160 hours. The city of Aurora said Monday that both he and another officer still work for the department.

The encounter occurred on Aug. 2, 2020. Ms. Gilliam, a restaurant worker, planned to take her family to get their nails done at the salon and then go out for ice cream, according to the civil complaint, filed in January. in 2021

But the family outing quickly “turned into a horror show” when officers pulled up behind Ms. Gilliam’s car, drew their guns and forced the family face down, handcuffing the two for more than 15 minutes, the lawsuit alleges.

More police officers arrived, and at one point there were more than ten, according to the lawsuit. Several bystanders also “watched in horror as the girls screamed and cried,” and some begged the officers to put down their weapons.

Police later said they mistakenly pulled over the family’s SUV because their license plate number was similar to one reported stolen, but later realized the number belonged to a motorcycle with Montana tags.

Ms. Gilliam repeatedly asked to show the officers her license plate but was not allowed to do so, according to the lawsuit, which claims the officers terrorized the family for no other reason than “because they are black.”

Ms. Gilliam, her nieces, sister and daughter were traumatized by the encounter and have “suffered severe distress” ever since, according to the lawsuit. One cannot get the screams out of her mind; others struggle to sleep and eat; and all are in therapy to process what happened that day, the lawsuit alleges.

Mr. Lane, the family’s attorney, said that while the family was pleased with the settlement, he hoped the case would spur further change at the Police Department, which has become a “national child of police departments in need of reform.”

Let’s hope, he added, “the Aurora City Council and the voters of the city of Aurora wake up to the fact that they desperately need a police department that spends less time at the shooting range and more time in the law library.”

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