AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — The interim Aurora police chief said she has apologized to the family of a group of children who were held at gunpoint by police over the weekend. The officers mistook the vehicle the children were in as stolen.
“This was a horrible mistake and one that I hope we can at least correct for the kids,” Vanessa Wilson said, the interim chief of the Aurora Police Department.
One adult and four children – including two teens, a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old girl – were ordered from the vehicle at a thrift store parking lot on the morning of Aug. 2.
Wilson said officers thought they had found a stolen vehicle, and the older girls were placed in handcuffs.
“We have been training our officers that when they contact a suspected stolen car, they should do what is called a high-risk stop. This involves drawing their weapons and ordering all occupants to exit the car and lie prone on the ground,” Wilson said.
“But we must allow our officers to have discretion and to deviate from this process when different scenarios present themselves. I have already directed my team to look at new practices and training,” she said.
Wilson said she felt the officers quickly realized the mistake, but “unfortunately the damage was already done for that family.”
Wilson said the car had license plate information that matched a stolen vehicle from a different state, which caused confusion.
“The (License Plate Recognition) system reads the numbers and not the state,” said Wilson. “So, it doesn’t recognize the state, but then the camera takes a picture of whatever vehicle triggered that LPR system.”
According to the Aurora Police Department, the car had also been reported stolen in a separate incident earlier in the year.
“It was all kind of really bad timing that it lined up the way it did,” Wilson said.
Jenni Wurtz, who shot video of the incident, said she could hear the little girls yelling “Mommy!” or “Auntie!” as they were laying on the ground.
“I felt like I had to stand by to observe, document, and ask them, ‘Are you ok?’” Wurtz said. “That poor mother that couldn’t help them that was in cuffs, she felt helpless.”
Wilson said she asked the family if she could meet personally with the children. “I’d really like to sit down and meet with the kids myself so that they’re not fearful of the police, but it’s all going to be on the family’s terms, and I understand they’re angry and have every right to be,” Wilson said.