DENVER (KDVR) – Denver police briefly held a mom, her boyfriend and her four kids at gunpoint last month, believing they were driving a stolen car, but the car was actually their own.
“It is so easy for something like this to happen,” said Marissa Vinson, who told the Problem Solvers she was terrified to be separated from her children for a few moments while police pointed a gun in her direction.
Vinson said she was worried during the ordeal.
“(My kids) are going to scream, ‘Mom!’ and jump out the window, and somebody’s going to get shot,” she said. “Or, my kids are not going to make it out of this situation.”
A month prior to the incident in June, Vinson said her Chevrolet Tahoe had been stolen by a group of kids who crashed it, but the Aurora Police Department recovered it the same day.
It was the third time it had been stolen.
Vinson said she watched the Aurora police officer remove the stolen car from the police system to make sure she would not be mistakenly pulled over in the future.
“He runs it several times,” she said. “(He) runs my plate. He’s like, ‘There’s no reason why it should come back as stolen.'”
However, miscommunication at the police department caused a different officer to re-enter the car as a stolen into the police system, setting into motion a series of events that led Vinson and her family to be pulled over.
“An internal investigation is underway,” said Sgt. Faith Goodrich, a public affairs officer at APD. “There are policies in place that should prevent these types of incidents and the internal review will determine if those policies were followed. The Aurora Police Department recognizes that even small administrative errors can have big impacts and we apologized to Ms. Vinson.”
Goodrich said a front desk officer had initially taken the report of the stolen vehicle, but that same officer was not aware that a different officer recovered the vehicle on the same day and had the Tahoe removed from the police system.
A few days later, when the front desk officer who took the initial report returned to work, that officer believed a mistake had been made in the report and “asked that the Tahoe be entered as a steal” into the system to ensure that Vinson would receive her car back if it was ever found.
Vinson told the Problem Solvers she also received an apology from the Denver Police Department.
“The traffic stop occurred because the car was still listed as stolen in a law enforcement database, which appears to have been an error made by the Aurora Police Department,” said Doug Schepman, a spokesperson for Denver Police.
On the scene, an officer told Vinson that officers could not have known who was driving the car when they pulled it over after it appeared to be stolen in their law enforcement database.
“It comes back stolen for us,” the officer told Vinson. “We treat it as a stolen car. That’s why guns are drawn.”
Body camera footage shows an officer telling Vinson’s boyfriend that they raised their guns because the traffic stop was considered to be high risk.
“Nobody stops for us,” the officer said. “Unfortunately, our policy doesn’t allow us to chase stolen vehicles, but you guys stopped, so we treat it as a high-risk stop. That’s why we have guns drawn. Nothing to do with who’s in the car. It’s just safety precautions, it’s just our policy.”
Schepman said the Denver Police Department is also conducting an internal affairs investigation as a result of a complaint filed by Vinson.