The Rochester mayor, on Monday, suspended officers who were captured on body-worn camera videos pepper-spraying and handcuffing a 9-year-old Black girl while responding to a “family trouble” call.
The incident, which has been sharply criticized by some city officials, residents and activists, occurred on January 29 when the officers were called to the home to deescalate an altercation, Rochester Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said on Sunday, according to CNN.
Anderson said the girl was reported to be “suicidal” and also “indicated that she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom.” Per the released video of the incident, the girl attempted running away from the officers, but one of them managed to catch up with her. Anderson said the girl’s mother later arrived and an argument between the two ensued.
When the officers tried taking her to a local hospital, Anderson said the girl refused to enter the police vehicle and “thrashed around”, kicking one of the officers and subsequently knocking his body camera around in the process, CNN reported.
“It didn’t appear as if she was resisting the officers, she was trying not to be restrained to go to the hospital,” Anderson said. “As the officers made numerous attempts to try to get her in the car, an officer sprayed the young child with OC spray to get her in the car.”
During the incident, the footage shows the girl crying and calling for her father. She is also held against the ground – which was covered in snow – and handcuffed. As the officers try putting her in the vehicle, she refuses to enter and struggles with them. One of the officers is later heard telling her, “You’re acting like a child”, to which she responds: “I am a child!”
Sometime later, a female officer is heard giving her an ultimatum, saying, “This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray’s going in your eyeballs.” Some moments later, one of the officers says, “Just spray her at this point.” The female officer subsequently shakes a can and pepper-sprays the girl. She was later taken to a local hospital for treatment.
“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. ” Interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said at the news conference on Sunday. “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.”
The city’s mayor, Lovely Warren, also condemned the incident, saying the content of the video isn’t something a mother would want to see.
“I have a 10-year-old daughter. So she’s a child; she’s a baby. And I can tell you that this video, as a mother, is not anything that you want to see. It’s not,” she said. “We have to understand compassion, empathy. When you have a child that is suffering in this way, and calling out for her dad, I saw my baby’s face in her face.”
The incident drew similarities to the death of Daniel Prude, the Black man who suffocated to death after Rochester police officers put a hood on him and pinned him to the ground while responding to a mental health crisis call. Prude died on March 30 after he was taken off life support seven days after the incident.
Both incidents also highlight how the police rather tend to occasionally aggravate situations involving people who are either dealing with mental health issues or are suicidal, CNN reported.
“The Rochester Police Department has no business serving as the first responder in a mental health crisis that calls for mental health expertise,” Donna Lieberman, the New York Civil Liberties Union executive director said in a statement. “It’s time for a full transformation of community safety, beginning with extracting the RPD from responding to mental health crises and putting trained mental health professionals in charge.”