A Cop Wrongly Handcuffed a Black Mom and Kids. Now He’s Running for Sheriff.

Officer Darian Dasko and four other cops from the Aurora Police Department stopped Brittany Gilliam with her daughter, sister, and two young nieces—ages 17, 14, 12, and 6 at the time.
August 4, 2021, 2:32pm
BRITTANY GILLIAM'S DAUGHTER, SISTER, AND TWO NIECES ARE HELD AT GUNPOINT BY MEMBERS OF THE AURORA POLICE DEPARTMENT IN AURORA, COLORADO, ON AUGUST 2, 2020.

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

Almost a year after Aurora, Colorado, police officers wrongly handcuffed a Black mother and members of her young family in a parking lot, one of the cops involved has thrown his hat into the race for county sheriff of a nearby town.

Advertisement

Last August, Officer Darian Dasko and four other cops from the Aurora Police Department stopped 29-year-old Brittany Gilliam in a strip mall parking lot, where she’d gone for a “Sunday Funday” after months of lockdown during the pandemic with her daughter, sister, and two young nieces—ages 17, 14, 12, and 6 at the time. The officers had mistakenly identified her car as a stolen vehicle.

The incident left Gilliam and the girls traumatized, and Dasko was briefly suspended for his role. Now, the eight-year law enforcement veteran has filed paperwork to run as a Republican for Las Animas County Sheriff in 2022, challenging the current sheriff, Democrat Derek Navarette.

“Anyone who has such poor judgement that they would pull a gun on a six year old girl lacks the judgement to be the county dog catcher, much less the county sheriff,” said Attorney David Lane, who’s representing Gilliam in a lawsuit against the department that names Dasko.

The county of Las Animas is a small one along the state’s southern border, with a population of just over 14,500 as of 2019. Ninety percent of the county’s residents identify as white. The county also leans Republican, with 54 percent of voters filing a ballot for former President Donald Trump during the 2020 election.

Dasko was a sergeant with the Las Animas County Sheriff’s Office before joining the Aurora Police Department in August 2018.

“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Dasko, who did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment, told local paper, the Chronicle-News last month. “I love Las Animas County, I love this area, I was born and raised here.”

According to his paperwork filed on July 1, Dasko is running the campaign by himself. But he already has the support of the local Republican committee, the Chronicle-News reported.

On August 2, 2020, Aurora police approached a parked vehicle in a strip mall parking lot with their weapons drawn. The officers demanded that Gilliam, and the four girls she had driven to the local nail salon, get out of the car and onto the pavement facedown. Two of the girls were handcuffed while Gilliam, also handcuffed, was placed into the back of a patrol car. After about 15 minutes, the handcuffs were removed from the girls and all of them were allowed to stand back up.

But nearly two hours after police first encountered the family in the strip mall parking lot, Dasko realized that he wrongfully identified the family’s vehicle as stolen: While Gilliam’s license plate number matched that of the stolen motorcycle they were looking for, the state of origin did not.

Dasko and his four colleagues were suspended for 160 hours for the error, and he even lost his position as a field training officer. But Dasko was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by Colorado attorney general Phil Weiser, who declined to bring any criminal charges against the officers in January.

Two weeks later, Gilliam sued the five officers, Aurora police chief Vanessa Wilson, and the city demanding monetary damages, disciplinary action against the officers involved, as well as the implementation of new training that would prevent another stop like this one. 

Her lawsuit is the first example of an individual suing members of law enforcement since the state prohibited the qualified immunity defense, which frees cops of financial fallout while performing certain otherwise criminally punishable actions on the job. If Gilliam wins, Dasko and his colleagues could be forced to pay  a portion of the related damages out of their own pockets.

Legal experts told VICE News earlier this year one that legislators and law enforcement agencies around the country are keeping an eye on Gilliam’s case as it could signal that peeling back qualified immunity is a worthy venture.

The Aurora Police Department has had several violent, and sometimes deadly, encounters with city residents. In 2019, 23-year-old Elijah McClain, an unarmed Black man, died days after receiving a dose of ketamine and being put in a chokehold by police for no reason. Just last week, an Aurora cop was charged with assault and misconduct after he was caught on video pistol whipping and choking an unarmed man.