AURORA, Colo — Two police officers who detained four children and their mother face-down at gunpoint during a traffic stop will not be charged with a crime, prosecutors said.
Video showed officers handcuff the 12 and 17 year old children while the others cried. The car was not stolen. The officers failed to check a license plate scanner before stopping the car.
“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 in the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “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.”
District Attorney George Brauchler did recommend the department review its policies.
“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,” Brauchler 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.”
Police Chief Vanessa Wilson apologized to the family and said they would address policies for high-risk traffic stops, KDVR reported.
“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.”
Brauchler’s office spent five months reviewing the case.
“The conclusion I came to was this was awful, it was preventable, avoidable,” Brauchler said. “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 also had an independent review of the case, which agreed with prosecutors that no crime was committed by the officers.
“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,” Paul Taylor, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Colorado Denver, said in his review. “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.”
Attorney David Lane, who represents the family, sees it differently.
“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 said. “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 plans to file a civil rights suit against the department.
“It’s beyond very traumatizing. I mean, it’s a life-changing event,” 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.”
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