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No charges for Aurora officers who handcuffed Black family after mistaking their SUV as stolen

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Posted at 3:03 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 09:49:40-05

AURORA, Colo. — No charges are being filed against Aurora police officers who in August handcuffed a Black family after mistaking their vehicle as stolen, though prosecutors called the incident "very concerning" and called on police to investigate why the officers weren't trained better.

The 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office announced the decision Friday morning.

The incident happened Aug. 2 and involved Aurora officers Darian Dasko and Madison Moen.

Dasko and Moen stopped the family's Dodge SUV near South Chambers Road and East Iliff Avenue, believing it was a reported stolen vehicle. The stolen vehicle report turned out to be from a motorcycle in Montana, not the family's SUV.

The officers drew their guns and ordered the family — including several children, the youngest of whom was five — to lay face down on the pavement, according to the district attorney's review of the case. No one in the car had committed a crime "or did anything to warrant being contacted by APD," the prosecutors' review said.

The family, prosecutors found, was "blameless" in the incident.

Still, prosecutors determined there was not evidence that the two Aurora officers acted "unlawfully, intentionally, knowingly or negligently" during the incident. Prosecutors acknowledged that what happened to the family was "unacceptable and preventable" but the incident wasn't enough to charge the officers.

Read the full review from the district attorney's office here

Dasko and Moen, who had graduated from the Aurora Police Academy two days prior, were riding together in a marked patrol car when they saw on their in-car computer that a blue Dodge Journey SUV had been reported in the area.

When Moen spotted the SUV in a parking lot off East Iliff, they confirmed it matched the license plate of the reported stolen vehicle. Dasko saw the SUV had tinted windows and radioed to dispatch that he and Moen would be conducting a "high-risk" traffic stop.

The officers ordered the family out of the car, and the driver responded, "I've got a car full of kids! Are you kidding me?"

Dasko told the driver, "You're in a stolen vehicle," and then said, "Just cooperate and this will all go smoothly. This is a stolen vehicle."

The drive tried to explain that the vehicle had been stolen in the past but was found and returned.

Dasko still ordered the family out of the car and onto the ground. Then another passenger emerged from the SUV, according to the prosecutors' review, a five-year-old girl "wearing a pink crown."

The young girl joined her family on the pavement, where they were held at gunpoint by the officers.

The driver again told Dasko the vehicle wasn't stolen, and Dasko said, "It's okay."

"It's not okay!" the driver told the officer, and four of the children "began to sob," the prosecutors' review said.

Dasko and Moen then handcuffed the driver and checked with dispatch again to confirm the vehicle was stolen. Dispatch informed the officers that the stolen vehicle plate actually came back to a motorcycle in Montana and was clear in Colorado.

Still, Dasko put the handcuffed driver in the back of his patrol car as he sorted out the situation. Moen then handcuffed two of the older girls from the family. Other officers had arrived at the scene, and one held a handgun at a "low-ready" position, pointed at the ground, the prosecutors' review said.

At this point, the girls began crying and saying they didn't want to go to jail. Police took the handcuffs off the girls about nine minutes into the incident, the review said.

In the patrol car, Dasko acknowledged to the SUV's driver that the situation was "wrong" and that he would "make it right," saying there was a mistake in their stolen vehicle report system. But the woman remained handcuffed, and Dasko said he needed to talk to his sergeant.

Dasko soon took the handcuffs off the driver. According to the prosecutors' review, the driver and the children were handcuffed for about 8 1/2 minutes.

Prosecutors concluded that, despite the inaccurate information initially given to Dasko about the stolen vehicle, "he had no reasonable way to know that at the time he initiated his stop of the vehicle."

"Officer Dasko had probable cause to believe the vehicle was stolen at the time he stopped it," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors said it appeared from body-cam footage that Dasko and Moen "strictly adhered to their training" during the incident.

"This is not to say that what happened to the occupants of the vehicle is okay or tolerable," prosecutors 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. Those are issues that do not appear to rise to the level of criminal culpability and are outside the jurisdiction of our office."

Clinton McKinzie, the chief deputy district attorney, wrote the review for the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson had apologized to the family shortly after the incident happened.

"We have been training our officers that when they contact a suspected stolen car, they should do what is called a high-risk stop," Wilson said in a statement in August. "This involves drawing their weapons and ordering all occupants to exit the car and lie prone on the ground. 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. I have called the family to apologize and to offer any help we can provide, especially for the children who may have been traumatized by yesterday's events. I have reached out to our victim advocates so we can offer age-appropriate therapy that the city will cover."