AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Criminal charges will not be filed against two officers that detained children at gunpoint face-down on the ground during a “high-risk” traffic stop, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler’s office announced on Friday.
According to the filing, “there is insufficient evidence to support the filing of any criminal charges against Officers Dasko and Moen.”
Brauchler’s office submitted the case to an outside source to determine if there was a use of force in the incident. The conclusion was in agreement with the DA.
On Aug. 7, two Aurora officers stopped a car believed to be stolen. The officers drew their weapons and ordered the occupants out to lie on the ground, face down in a parking lot at South Chambers Road and East Illiff Avenue.
According to the case report, a woman and four girls got out and did as the officers demanded. The youngest girl was 5 years old. Officers handcuffed the woman and two older girls while on the ground.
The woman and girls were released after additional officers arrived at the scene and determined that the car was not stolen.
“However, despite the disturbing fact that terrified children were ordered out of a vehicle at
gunpoint and placed face-down on the ground, our conclusion is that there is not evidence
beyond a reasonable doubt that the APD officers involved unlawfully, intentionally, knowingly,
or negligently violated any Colorado criminal law,” Clinton McKinzie, Chief Deputy District Attorney said in a letter to Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson.
“It is our hope, however, that APD will immediately undertake a review of their policies to try and ensure that nothing of this sort ever happens again. What happened to the innocent occupants is unacceptable and preventable, but that alone is an insufficient basis to affix criminal culpability to the two officers involved in the initial contact,” McKinzie said.
Wilson apologized to the family after the incident and said she was going to address the policies in place for high-risk traffic stops.
“This was a horrible mistake and one that I hope we can at least correct for the kids,” Wilson said.
“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.
Brauchler said that after he saw the case in the media, he believed it needed an “extra set of expert eyes.”
The investigation lasted five months.
“The conclusion I came to was this was awful, it was preventable, avoidable. Those people in that van did nothing to deserve this either before or during the contact. Those sweet little girls did not deserve this memory, especially on that special day, but none of those things met the standard that I have to abide by for the purpose of filing criminal charges. Just because it’s wrong — and this surely was — doesn’t mean it was a crime,” Brauchler said.
Brauchler took the unusual step of bringing in an independent expert in use of force.
Paul Taylor, assistant professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Colorado Denver, concluded:
“It is my opinion that, given the information they were relying on and the training they had received, the officers involved in this incident were reasonable, prudent, and safe in their choice and use of tactics, weapons, and restraints. All of the officers involved in the incident acted in a professional, safe, and respectful manner in all their interactions with the driver and the other occupants of the vehicle during the encounter. The officers’ actions were consistent with the high-risk stop training they had received. In addition, using high-risk tactics to stop an occupied vehicle when there was reason to believe the vehicle was stolen was consistent with APD training and practice along with other local and national law enforcement policies and practices. The officers reasonably modified their tactics when they discovered that a very young juvenile was in car and quickly removed restraints from everyone involved when they determined that an error had been made. While there were certainly areas in which performance could have been improved and additional training should be considered, I am not convinced that they would have substantially altered the outcome of the encounter.”
But David Lane, the attorney representing the family, disagrees.
“When you hire an ex-cop who makes a living of training cops to do an investigation, what you have is law enforcement investigating law enforcement and it always works out very well for law enforcement.” Lane continued, “There were innumerable criminal charges that could’ve been brought but weren’t because if you’re a cop, you are the law and what you do has no consequences.”
Lane says he plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the city of Aurora next week.
“It’s beyond very traumatizing. I mean, it’s a life-changing event,” he said.
Lane said it may be the first lawsuit filed under Senate Bill 217, the police reform act that passed last year.
“Unfortunately, tax payers are going to foot the bill for this one, they’re going to foot the bill for Elijah McClain and not a single cop is going to lose a paycheck, not a single cop is going to jail. This decision makes it seem Aurora is more on the hook than individual cops because the whole whitewash is based on how the cops get trained. Aurora’s responsible for the training, so I would like to see a jury smack down Aurora very, very significantly,” Lane said.
The DA’s decision letter suggest Aurora police make changes: “The errors in information-sharing, training, and procedure that led to these innocent people being subjected to this police encounter must be investigated further and prevented from happening again.” Braucher said. “These kinds of things should not be taking place on the streets in our community. I’m still of that mind. But my conclusion doesn’t make it criminal, we just don’t have enough to prosecute them for a crime.”
Lane said, “Basic common sense and decency should tell you, you don’t put a 6-year-old kid face-down at gunpoint anywhere, under any circumstances.”