Police in Colorado have been forced to apologize after a shocking viral video showed officers detaining four clearly distressed young Black girls—one only 6 years old—and keeping them face-down on the pavement of a hot Denver-area parking lot after mistaking their vehicle as stolen.
The Gilliam family was reportedly in Aurora to get their nails done—but, before they could reach an open salon, the four girls, who are siblings and cousins, were ordered at gunpoint by white officers to lie face-down in the parking lot. Two were handcuffed. In the video, the girls, who are between 6 and 17 years old, can be heard screaming for their mom as several of the police stand over them.
“I want my mother!” one of the girls can be heard wailing. “Can’t I have my sister next to me?” another one of them cries. “This is my fucking car,” one shouts from the ground.
The reason for seizing a whole family? Police Chief Vanessa Wilson claimed in a statement that the Gilliam SUV’s plates matched those of a stolen motorcycle registered in another state, and the officers didn’t realize their mistake until after they had forced the girls from the car and made them lie on the hot pavement of the parking lot. Once they figured it out, Wilson said, they said sorry to the girls.
The Denver Post reports the Gilliam car had a Colorado license plate, while a Montana motorcycle with the same plate number was the vehicle that had been reported as stolen.
Chief Wilson said in her prepared statement: “I have called the family to apologize and to offer any help we can provide, especially for the children who may have been traumatized by yesterday’s events. I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover.”
Brittney Gilliam, who was driving the vehicle, told Denver’s KUSA that Wilson’s offer is nowhere near good enough and she has since filed a complaint. Gilliam said: “That’s police brutality... There’s no excuse why you didn’t handle it a different type of way… You could have even told them, ‘Step off to the side let me ask your mom or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up.’”
Teriana Thomas, Gilliam’s 14-year-old niece, who was one of the children detained and handcuffed, said the police have lost her trust. “It’s like they don’t care,” she told KUSA. “Who am I going to call when my life is in danger?”
Aurora is the same Denver suburb where, last year, police detained 23-year-old Elijah McClain. An officer put the unarmed Black man into a chokehold that rendered him unconscious before paramedics injected him with a sedative. McClain died days later. Last month, two officers were fired over photographs of them re-enacting the chokehold near a memorial for McClain, and protests over his case have been held all over the world as Colorado prosecutors re-examine the case.
Chief Wilson strongly denied that race was a factor in the detention of the young girls last weekend, saying: “I totally understand that anger, and don’t want to diminish that anger. But I will say it wasn’t a profiling incident. It was a hit that came through the system, and they have a picture of the vehicle the officers saw.”
On Monday, Wilson was promoted from interim police chief to a permanent position.