AURORA — An investigation will determine if police officers in suburban Denver will face charges after they placed a group of Black girls on the ground, handcuffing some of them in tears, during a a car stop in which they were erroneously suspected to be traveling in a stolen vehicle, a prosecutor said Friday.
Officers later determined that the vehicle they were seeking had the same license plate number but was from another state.
The incident Sunday that attracted national attention after a video of the girls being detained was posted on social media happened in Aurora, Colorado, where officers are also being investigated after Elijah McClain died after being placed in a chokehold last year.
District Attorney George Brauchler said Friday that Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson and the police department are cooperating with the investigation.
“Everyone is entitled to be treated equally under the law,” Brauchler said. “No one is above the law. If our investigation determines that the officers involved committed a crime, I will not hesitate to file charges and prosecute them.”
Aurora police apologized after a video taken Sunday by a bystander showed the children, ranging in age from 6 to 17 years old, in a parking lot. The video shows the 17-year-old and 12-year-old lying on their stomachs with their hands cuffed behind their backs and a 14-year-old girl lying next to the 6-year-old also on their stomachs next to the car.
They can be heard crying and screaming as officers stand with their back to the camera. A woman on the other side of the car is shown being led away in handcuffs.
An officer eventually helped the handcuffed 17-year-old and 12-year-old sit up but leaves them sitting with their hands behind their backs.
Police then determined they had stopped the wrong car. It had Colorado license plates, but a motorcycle with the same license plate number from Montana was the vehicle that had been reported as stolen on Sunday.
Jennifer Wurtz, who shot the video, said on camera that the police drew guns as they initially approached the car.
Wilson, who was named chief of the Aurora Police Department this week after serving as its interim leader, told The Associated Press that she is committed to rebuilding the public’s trust.
Police stopped McClain, 23, put him in a chokehold and then paramedics gave him 500 milligrams of ketamine to calm him down. McClain suffered cardiac arrest and was later taken off life support.
The Colorado attorney general is now investigating after a local prosecutor said last year there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the officers. It’s one of a handful of investigations into McClain’s death, including a city review of police policies like use of force.