The city of Aurora, Colorado, reached a $1.9 million settlement with a Black woman who was removed from her car at gunpoint with her underage family members after police officers mistakenly thought she had stolen her vehicle.
The woman, Brittney Gilliam, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and police officials in 2021, alleging that officers searched her and her family members at gunpoint without probable cause or evidence of a crime. She said in the lawsuit that they were targeted because they are Black.
David Lane, an attorney for the family, said Tuesday that he hopes the settlement will lead to changes in how law enforcement handles similar situations.
"Aurora cops need to spend less time on the gun range and more time in the law library. Our hope is that police officers all over the country learn that law enforcement needs to use common sense, especially when dealing with children," Lane said in an emailed statement. "A robo-cop mentality will lead to huge liability."
He added: "We believe that inexcusable racial profiling was involved in this case as well. When the race of the occupants of a vehicle causes guns to be drawn, a line has been crossed which will result in huge consequences for the police."
City spokesperson Michael Brannen said, "The Aurora Police Department remains committed to strengthening the relationship with the community through accountability and continuously improving how it serves the public."
The family was having a "Sunday Funday" in August 2020. Gilliam had taken her 17-year-old sister, her 6-year-old daughter and two nieces, ages 12 and 14, out to get their nails done and for ice cream. When the group got to the nail salon, they realized it was closed so they sat in Gilliam's car to look for another place, according to the lawsuit.
That's when police approached the vehicle and ordered everyone out, the lawsuit said. Gilliam, her sister and her 12-year-old niece were handcuffed, according to the lawsuit. The handcuffs were too big for Gilliam's 6-year-old daughter, the suit said, so officers forced the little girl and Gilliam’s 14-year-old niece to hold their hands above their heads with their faces on the pavement.
The family was held for about two hours until a sergeant arrived, according to the suit. Witnesses filmed the encounter and posted video of it on social media.
The Aurora Police Department previously said that officers had conducted a traffic stop under the belief that Gilliam had stolen her car because it shared the license plate of a stolen motorcycle. Police later learned that the motorcycle had plates from a different state.
The incident was traumatic for the girls, according to the lawsuit, and the four minors had sought weekly therapy.
Lane said Tuesday that the family is pleased with the settlement amount and was glad the girls were not forced to "relive this nightmare" during a trial. The children, who will not receive any money until they turn 18 years old, are "still skittish around police but otherwise fine," the attorney said.