It was supposed to be a “Sunday Funday” on August 2 for Britney Gilliam, 29, and four of her young female relatives, ages 17 to 6. Manicures and ice cream were in the plan. The reality for the Black family was a nightmare scenario in which Aurora, Colorado police officers ordered them out of their vehicle at gunpoint and forced them to lay face down in a parking lot in handcuffs.
The officers refused to tell them why they were being ordered out of their car. They said they would only inform them once they were left the vehicle. Now, Gilliam and her family have filed a lawsuit against those involved. The lawsuit names five Aurora police officers and Chief of Police Vanessa Wilson and states there were no legal grounds for their actions.
According to the lawsuit, there was no reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and the search, seizure, and use of force against the plaintiffs was motivated wholly or in part due to their race. The Aurora Police Department has a history of police brutality against people of color. In 2019, Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died in police custody from a chokehold.
Mistaking an SUV for a Motorcycle
The police officers had received a report of a stolen vehicle. While Gilliam’s license plate number was the same as the vehicle reported stolen, there was a vast and obvious difference. She was driving an SUV. The stolen vehicle was a motorcycle – from out-of-state. Officers Darian Dasko and Madisen Moen apparently missed those significant details in the stolen vehicle report.
Officer Attempts to Handcuff 6-Year-Old
Gilliam and the older children were ordered to lie down on the ground with their hands cuffed behind their backs. There was an exception, as the officer attempting to handcuff the 6-year-old girl found the handcuffs were too large. A video taken by a bystander shows the children screaming in fear as officers surrounded them.
The 6-year-old is Gilliam’s daughter. The other young people were her sister and nieces. They were forced to lay there for two hours until a police sergeant arrived.
When the officers finally realized their error, they took off the handcuffs and tried to explain what occurred. They did apologize, but it was too little, too late. The family was traumatized.
A Family in Therapy
Ever since the incident, the entire family has been in therapy. All have suffered “serious emotional trauma and stress,” according to the lawsuit. Chief Wilson apologized to Gilliam and offered to pay the costs of therapy for the children.
New Civil Rights Statute
Just two months before the incident, Colorado passed a landmark civil rights law. Signed by Governor Jared Polis in reaction to the May death of George Floyd, it permits plaintiffs to bypass qualified immunity.
This means that when police officers are sued in civil court and did not act in “good faith and reasonable belief” that their actions were lawful, they may have to pay up to $25,000 of any judgment out of their own pockets.
Gilliam’s attorney says this case is the first lawsuit brought under the new civil rights statute.