February 22, 2024

PERRY: Aurora cops burn through another $1.9 million and trust funds for abusing Black people

In this image taken from Aurora Police Department body cam video, 6-year-old Lovely Gilliam looks up at a police officer as she and her family members lie in a parking lot after they were wrongfully forced out of their car on Aug. 2, 2020, in Aurora, Colo. Police mistakenly believed the vehicle, driven by Brittney Gilliam, was stolen. A lawyer for Gilliam announced Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, that the family has reached a $1.9 million legal settlement with the city of Aurora. (Aurora Police Department via AP)

Being a reporter for almost 40 years, and having spent most of that time covering Aurora, I’ve seen some stuff.

But next to the Aurora theater shooting and the appalling video of police assailing Elijah McClain, I’m still undone by watching local cops in 2020 force young Black girls out of a car and get face down on scorching asphalt during a bungled patrol stop.

The same department that has been paying out tens of millions of dollars to Black people who have been assaulted, pistol whipped by Aurora police and sometimes killed by their antics will now pay $1.9 million in a settlement to a family of Black women and children for a blunder that drew international scorn. The city paid $15 million in 2021 to settle the death of Elijah McClain.

With about 700 people working for the Aurora Police Department, it must be agonizing for all the righteous, dedicated and competent officers dragged into the muck by APD schleps and villains. 

It was the schlep patrol in 2020 that wrongly pulled over a car because they thought it was stolen.

It wasn’t.

The license plate number of the car, which oddly drew police attention, also belonged to a Montana motorcycle, reported stolen. Inside the Aurora car were six Black women and girls out for a Sunday lark to get their nails done.

Officers forced everyone out, including the young girls, and then started handcuffing them at gunpoint, face down on hot August asphalt.

When it becomes public that, oops, it was all just a mixup, “yuck, yuck, yuck,” and a giant mistake on the part of police, the department said, “sorry.”

Officials then said that Aurora cops just followed their protocol for handling potentially stolen car cases.

Nobody outside of police brown-nosers bought the line.

What protocol does any decent and competent police department have that calls for forcing a screaming 6-year-old girl onto her face in a hot parking lot?

Aurora did.

Announcing that the city would shell out $1.9 million tax or insurance dollars on this police conundrum, officials said they’re really going to do better now.

Show us.

The problem with the problematic Aurora police department is that they have an acute credibility problem.

Credibility about their claim that everything was just an honest mixup evaporated like a girl’s tears on hot asphalt.

There was never a cogent explanation to why driver Brittney Gilliam and her friends and family were targeted by police in the first place. They were simply driving through the parking lot.

So, officers would have been just as suspicious if the car was filled with light-skinned, light-haired women and girls? So police make everyone pile out and lie face down on the hot asphalt. Everyone included four girls, ages, 6, 12, 14 and 17.

Gilliam’s lawyer, David Lane, called bull on the APD story this week.

Lane said that the facts of the case made clear that Aurora police actions “were evidence of ‘profound and systematic’ racism, according to an Associated Press story from this week.

The racist part of this is that, in the eyes of these officers, it’s OK to treat Black females they encounter like criminals in a way I can guarantee you they would never have treated a white red-hair little girl or any of Aurora’s white city councilwomen.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s pretty much the same vernacular Attorney General Phil Weiser used about APD when announcing that the police department would be forced into a consent decree intended to clean things up.

The state AG found that this hot asphalt nightmare, and a long list of other similar episodes, was indicative of a “pattern and practice of racially biased policing, and use of excessive force by Aurora Police.”

Do you think?

The videos of the episodes, taken by brave bystanders and police body-cams, are what’s left me shaken.

Videos show four hulking cops standing over and cuffing four hysterical girls. It goes on for several minutes as the girls screamed, pleaded and begged.

It’s one of the most ghastly, inhumane scenes of police cruelty and incompetence I’ve seen since another Aurora cop wrestled another Black girl to the asphalt in a King Soopers parking lot in 2006.

In that case, the handicapped mom was accused by an Aurora cop of parking in a handicapped parking space without properly displaying her handicapped parking pass, which she actually had.

She complained to store management, and minutes later, APD Sgt. Charles DeShazer was caught on camera roughing up her 12-year-old daughter, injuring her shoulder.

He later got promoted and kept his job until years later. That’s when, in 2018, he was caught on a police body cam referring to Black crime witnesses as “Alabama porch monkeys.” He got fired, but the city’s civil service commission reversed the firing, forcing DeShazer back onto the job because none of this was a fireable offense in Aurora, home of the world’s worst police department.

He’s gone now, but not because of what he did.

I don’t know any Black people in Aurora who for the past few years haven’t gone from being skeptical of Aurora police to being downright unnerved thinking about any kind of encounter.

Despite that, police keep saying, ‘Trust us. We got this.”

And as regular as Donald Trump’s claim of a witch hunt, an army of social media trolls step up to say that police treat everyone the same, and if you comply like white people do, nobody gets hurt.

What Aurora police are essentially asking Black people to do is to remain calm when confronted by an officer while they harass or assault them so they aren’t maimed or killed during the encounter.

That car full of girls? Police said they’re trained to handle possible stolen car situations just like they did — providing cops actually get the make and model of the car right, or even the right kind of vehicle. It’s always guns drawn. Everyone out. Get face down. Cuff ‘em. 

So if the car had been filled with elderly white women headed home from Sunday Mass at St. Pius, it would have been face down on the pavement for them?

Oh, please.

So not only do we all have to worry about credit card theft from scammy gas pumps, now we have to worry about being molested by cops every time we get in our car in case our license plate has similar numbers to another one that’s stolen two states away.

Well, only if we’re Black.

Almost four years later, this is still a training wreck.

Police must be trained and tested to know right from wrong. This was wrong.

More than anything, Aurora police need to prove to the community this can’t and won’t ever happen again. Almost four years later, however, the trust is still broken.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on BlueSky, Threads, Mastodon, Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or dperry@SentinelColorado.com

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