Rochester, NY – Police have released bodycam video that showed what led up to officers using pepper spray on a handcuffed, nine-year-old girl on Friday (video below).
The incident occurred at about 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 29 when police responded to a call about “family trouble” that involved a possible stolen vehicle, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
When police arrived, the child fled and ran off in the freezing cold and snow with a police officer trudging behind her asking her to stop.
The little girl’s mother told police that she was afraid her daughter was planning to harm herself or others, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
“She indicated she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom,” Rochester Police Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson told reporters at a press conference on Sunday.
Bodycam video showed the officer caught up with the girl on Harris Street and tried to help her, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
“What is going on? How can I help?” the officer asked the hysterical child who was trying to run away.
Then the bodycam video showed the child’s mother arrived on the scene and began yelling at the child.
The child accused her mother of having stabbed her father, which the mother denied, as the very confused police officer tried to keep the child from taking off again.
“You’re going to bring you’re a– to the mother–king house… you’re going bring you’re a– to this house before I (unintelligible) and drag you home,” the mother screamed at the girl in the video.
“I’ve got custody. You’re my child. So you’re going to take you’re a– home right now. And you’re going to take you’re a– in the house,” the mother told the child angrily.
The mother was making the child more upset so the officer asked her to return to her house, the bodycam showed.
But then the mother noticed a van that had stopped to watch their interaction with the police officer and she engaged them, telling them to mind their own business.
Bodycam showed the nine year old also tried to become involved in the altercation with the people in the van so the officer pulled her away and walked her back toward her home and radioed for other officers to handle the mother’s new fight.
The child began screaming that she wanted to talk to her father before she was put in the police car, the video showed.
She tried to pull away and kicked one of the officers, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
Rochester police said in a statement on Saturday that the action “required” the officer to take the girl to the ground.
Then the child was handcuffed “for the minor’s safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene” and put into the back of a police car until the ambulance arrived, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
The child was later transported to Rochester General Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Bodycam video showed that the girl would not cooperate with officers and put her feet inside the police car.
She kicked at them and screamed for her father repeatedly, the video showed.
So another officer went around to the other side of the police car and opened up the door.
Bodycam video showed he shook up what police have identified as an “irritant,” leaned into the vehicle, and sprayed the child.
Police said that the use of the irritant was “required” as well in their initial statement, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
Rochester Interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan later identified the irritant as pepper spray.
By Sunday, the police department was walking back assertions that the use of pepper spray had been required during the incident with the nine-year-old girl, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
“The incident is under review at this time. We will comment on this question after all [body-worn camera] video and procedures have been reviewed,” Rochester Police Captain Mark Mura told reporters on Jan. 31.
Capt. Mura refused to comment on whether any officers had been re-assigned to desk duty while the matter is investigated, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
The acting police chief didn’t attempt to defend her officers.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a nine-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is okay. It’s not,” Chief Herriott-Sullivan said. “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.”
Police said the child “received the services and care that she needed” at the hospital and was released to the custody of her parents.
The police union asked people not to rush to judgement ahead of the investigation, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
Rochester Police Investigator Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, said the officer had made the decision to handle things in a manner that would not injure the child.
“I’m not saying there are not better ways to do things,” Inv. Mazzeo said. “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 on out our hands and have somebody be instantly handcuffed and comply. It’s not a simple situation.”
The union boss said there were no violations of department policy because there were no clear policies on how to handle an incident such as what occurred, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
He also said it was the second time the little girl had to be handcuffed by police in recent months but would not provide specifics of the earlier incident.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said she looked forward to the Police Accountability Board’s (PAB) review of the incident, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.
“What RPD policies, procedures, or written directives require – not allow, but require – an officer to use pepper spray or another chemical irritant on someone if they are refusing to place their feet in a patrol car?” the PAB asked the chief, among other questions, in a letter on Saturday night.
Watch the incident unfold in the video below: