Aurora chief apologizes for armed officers who detained children during stolen vehicle mistake

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AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — The interim Aurora police chief said she has apologized to the family of a group of girls who were approached by police at gunpoint over the weekend. The officers mistook the vehicle in which the children were riding as stolen.

“This was a horrible mistake and one that I hope we can at least correct for the kids,” said Vanessa Wilson, the interim chief of the Aurora Police Department.

One adult and four children – including two teens, a 12-year-old, and a six-year-old girl – were evacuated from the vehicle at an Aurora thrift store parking lot on the morning of August 2.  

Wilson said the older girls were placed in handcuffs while officers thought they had encountered a stolen vehicle. 

“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.”

Wilson said she felt that her officers recognized the mistake pretty quickly, but “unfortunately the damage was already done for that family.”

Wilson said the vehicle in which the girls were sitting 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 in which the girls were sitting 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 standby 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.

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