US police handcuff, pull guns on black woman and children over mistaken car theft

A black woman and four young girls were handcuffed and ordered to lay face down at a parking lot in Colorado.

Britney Gilliam was with her 6-year-old daughter, 12-year-old sister and teenage nieces in a car on Sunday morning when police 'silently' drew their weapons on them.

A video taken by a witness shows the children handcuffed, crying and screaming on the ground while police ordered them to lie face down.

"I saw a car next to me with four girls in it, and next thing I know, the police pull up silently behind them and had guns drawn on the children," said witness Jennifer Wurtz.

Aurora police said in a statement to NBC News that officers conducted a "traffic stop" after they got a report of a stolen vehicle with the same license plate.

When police found out the accused license plate belonged to a stolen motorcycle in a different state, they "unhandcuffed everyone and apologised," public information officer Faith Goodrich said in a statement.

The police statement said that the officers' confusion may have been due to the fact Gilliam's car had been reported stolen earlier in the year, NBC News reports.

But Gilliam told KUSA that the car was recovered a day after it had been reported stolen and that there is no reason the girls needed to be handcuffed and forced to the ground.

"There's no excuse why you didn't handle it a different type of way," she said, "that's police brutality."

"You could have even told them: 'Step off to the side let me ask your mum or your auntie a few questions so we can get this cleared up'."

Teriana Thomas, Gilliam's 14-year-old niece said this incident made her question her life and safety.

"It's like they don't care," she said, "who am I going to call when my life is in danger?"

Gilliam has since filed a complaint about the incident on Sunday.