| Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
9-year-old Black girl handcuffed and pepper sprayed in Rochester, NY
Body cam footage shows Rochester, NY police officers restraining a distraught 9-year-old girl, who was handcuffed and later sprayed with pepper spray.
USA TODAY, Storyful
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Officers involved in a Friday incident that resulted in a 9-year-old girl being pepper-sprayed in her face by police have been suspended, Rochester Director of Communications Justin Roj announced Monday afternoon.
The suspensions are effective immediately and will continue, at a minimum, until the completion of an internal review. The officers are suspended with full pay as per state civil service law.
City officials did not immediately release names of the officers suspended, nor the total number of officers suspended.
A total of nine officers attended the scene.
Police released two bodycam videos Sunday that showed officers restraining a distraught 9-year-old girl who was handcuffed and pepper sprayed when she disobeyed commands.
In the videos, the girl repeatedly and frantically screams for her father as officers try to restrain her after responding to a call over “family trouble” Friday afternoon.
The release said the decision to suspend the officers was made after Mayor Lovely Warren met with the interim RPD acting chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.
“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged, all of our community,” said Mayor Warren.
“Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action,” the mayor said. “I will lead the charge that these laws be changed as part of our response to the Governor’s Executive Order 203. And, we will be asking our state legislators to join me, and make numerous changes in Civil Service Law that would allow cities to more quickly issue discipline in cases like this one.”
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At a news conference Sunday, Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson described the girl as suicidal.
“She indicated she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom,” he said.
In one of the videos, an officer asks the girl, “What is going on? How can I help?”
When officers tried to put the girl into the back of a patrol car, she pulled away and kicked at them.
In a statement Saturday, police said the girl’s actions “required” an officer to take her to the ground, and “for the minor’s safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene,” the child was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car as they waited for an ambulance.
An officer sprayed an “irritant” in the handcuffed girl’s face when she disobeyed commands to put her feet in the car, police said Saturday.
As the girl struggled and cried, an officer said, “Just spray her at this point” and closed the car door.
The child was taken to Rochester General Hospital under the state’s mental hygiene law and “received the services and care that she needed,” police said.
After being treated, she was released to her family.
“I’m very concerned about how this young girl was handled by our police department,” Warren said at Sunday’s news conference. “It is clear from the video we need to do more in support of our children and families.”
Herriott-Sullivan said, “I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK. It’s not. I don’t see that as who we are as a department, and we’re going to do the work we have to do to ensure that these kinds of things don’t happen.”
Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing uniformed officers, asked for patience. He didn’t want a rush to judgment before all the necessary information was made public. It does no good to blame one officer, he said.
He said the officer, who has not been identified, decided to subdue the distraught child and acted in a manner that didn’t physically injure her.
“I’m not saying there are not better ways to do things,” Mazzeo said during a news conference Sunday night. “But let’s be realistic about what we’re facing. … It’s not TV, it’s not Hollywood. We don’t have a simple (situation), where we can put out our hands and have somebody be instantly handcuffed and comply. It’s not a simple situation.”
The city began reassessing its response to mental-health-related calls after the death of Daniel Prude in March 2020. The incident became public five months later and sparked massive protests calling for RPD to change how it responds to calls involving mental health distress.
Contributing: Marcia Greenwood, Will Cleveland and Brian Sharp, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle