The Aurora police officers who ordered terrified children out of a car at gunpoint and held them, some handcuffed, on hot asphalt after bungling a traffic stop will not face criminal charges, prosecutors announced Friday.
Officers Darian Dasko and Madisen Moen on Aug. 2 stopped the car, which they believed to be stolen, and ordered the four children — ages 6, 12, 14 and 17 — and the woman taking them to a nail appointment to lie on the ground. Video shows the children screaming in fear as police handcuffed the 12-year-old and the 17-year-old.
But the car was not stolen. Police failed to double-check a reading from a license plate scanner before making the stop.
“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,” Clinton McKinzie, chief deputy district attorney in the 18th Judicial District, wrote in his letter explaining the decision.
McKinzie said in his letter that the woman driving the car, Brittney Gilliam, and the children were “blameless” in the incident and urged the Aurora Police Department to “immediately undertake a review of their policies to try and ensure that nothing of this sort ever happens again.”
Dasko was acting as the training officer for Moen, who had graduated from the academy two days before the stop, the letter states. Dasko instructed Moen to go “hands on” and he handcuffed Gilliam while Moen handcuffed two of the children. The two girls remained handcuffed for four minutes, even after dispatchers confirmed that Gilliam’s car was not stolen.
A license plate reader installed at an Aurora intersection had alerted police to the car, a blue SUV, because it had the same license plate numbers as a stolen motorcycle from Montana. Officers failed to check whether the SUV matched the physical description of the stolen vehicle.
The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office sought the expertise of an outside law enforcement expert. Paul Taylor, an assistant professor at University of Colorado Denver and a former police officer, found that the officers’ actions were within Aurora police policy.
“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,” Taylor wrote in his findings. “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.”
But police officers on scene made several mistakes that day, McKinzie wrote.
“This is not to say that what happened to the occupants of the vehicle is OK or tolerable,” he wrote. “It is not. 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.”
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