Home U.S. News City in Colorado Pays $1.9 Million to Black Family Wrongfully Detained by Police

City in Colorado Pays $1.9 Million to Black Family Wrongfully Detained by Police

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City in Colorado Pays $1.9 Million to Black Family Wrongfully Detained by Police

Five members of a Black family who were wrongfully detained at gunpoint in Aurora, Colo., in 2020 by police officers who mistook their S.U.V. for a vehicle that had been stolen received $1.9 million to settle their lawsuit against the city, the family’s lawyer said Monday.

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

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

The settlement was reached several months ago but remained confidential because there are children involved, David Lane, the lawyer, said by phone Monday. It is divided equally among Ms. Gilliam, her nieces, sister and daughter, he added, noting that the younger children will need to wait until they turn 18 to be able to access their share.

The settlement, Mr. Lane said, both helped to avoid re-traumatizing the children in a deposition or trial, and to bring attention to the costly nature of settling similar cases — which the city has done several times in recent years following accusations that its police officers had 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 A.C.L.U. of Colorado. In 2021, the city agreed to pay $15 million to the family of Elijah McLain to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit over the police confrontation in 2019 that ended his life.

A state investigation into the practices of the Aurora Police Department 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 on Monday. Its Police Department, the city added, “remains committed to strengthening the relationship with the community through accountability and continuously improving how it serves the public.”

Several months after the mistaken stolen-car stop, Colorado prosecutors said they would not charge the two officers who had drawn their guns and handcuffed some of the members of the family, saying they had not found sufficient evidence to support filing criminal charges. The Associated Press reported that one of the officers was suspended for 160 hours. The City of Aurora said Monday that both he and the other officer still work for the department.

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

But the family outing quickly “turned into a horror show” when the officers pulled up behind Ms. Gilliam’s car, drew their guns and forced the family to lie face down on the ground, keeping two of them handcuffed for more than 15 minutes, the suit contends.

More officers arrived, and at one point, there were more than a dozen, according to the suit. Several bystanders also “looked on in horror as the girls screamed and cried,” with some pleading with the officers to put their weapons away.

The police later said that they had mistakenly pulled the family’s S.U.V. over because their license plate number was similar to one recorded as stolen, but later realized that number belonged to a motorcycle with Montana plates.

Ms. Gilliam repeatedly asked to show the officers her registration, but was not permitted to, according to the lawsuit, which claims that the officers terrorized the family for no other reason than “because they are Black.”

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

Mr. Lane, the family lawyer, said that while the family was satisfied with the settlement, he hoped the case would spur further change to the Police Department, which has become “the poster child nationally for police departments in need of reform.”

Hopefully, he added, “the Aurora City Council and the voters in the city of Aurora will wake up to the fact that they desperately need a Police Department which is spending less time on the gun range, and more time in the law library.”

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