Police in Rochester, New York handcuffed and pepper sprayed a 9-year-old girl on Wednesday. Jan. 27 while responding to a call regarding “family trouble.”
Body camera footage the police department released on Sunday, Jan. 31 show officers restraining the girl in handcuffs and trying to put her in the back of a police car. After she does not follow their commands to put her feet inside of the car, the officers pepper-spray her. A total of nine officers and supervisors responded to the scene, the Democrat and Chronicle reports.
At a press conference on Sunday, Interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan spoke about the incident.
“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,” she 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.”
Despite Herriott-Sullivan not seeing the behavior as representative of the police department, the action is certainly on par with at least one other incident of brutality its officers have recently committed.
In September 2020, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren fired former police Chief La’Ron Singletary in response to the death of Daniel Prude, an unarmed Black man who police killed in March 2020. Prude was suffering a mental health crisis and drug trip when his brother called for help. Instead of assisting with the matter, police pinned Prude down in the street while he was naked and placed a spit hood over his head. Footage of the death was not even released until August 2020, and protests against the police department have been ongoing.
Regarding the most recent incident, Warren said at the Sunday press conference that she spoke to the girl’s mother and that the city’s mental health team was going to reach out to the family.
Deputy police chief Andre Anderson said during Sunday’s press conference that police were responding to a report of “family trouble” and a possible stolen vehicle on Jan. 29. He said officers were told the girl was “suicidal” and “indicated that she wanted to kill herself and wanted to kill her mom.”
The videos show one officer asking the girl, “What’s going on? How can I help?” before the girl’s mother comes outside and the child and mother start arguing.
When officers try to force the child into the back of the patrol car, she appears to kick them. Footage then shows the girl crying out for her father as the officers pin her down onto the snowy ground before handcuffing her.
Police department representatives said the child’s behavior “required” them to pin her down, saying “For the minor’s safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene, the minor was handcuffed and detained in the backseat of a patrol car to await for an ambulance.”
In another instance in the footage, one officer can be heard saying, “You’re acting like a child.”
“I am a child!” the 9-year-old responds.
Later in the video, a female officer is seen talking to the girl, eventually saying, “This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray is going in your eyeballs.” About a minute later, another officer can be heard saying, “Just spray her at this point.”
Despite community backlash, the Rochester Police Union is defending its officers. Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club that represents the officers said it wasn’t a “simple situation.”
When asked why RPD referred to the actions of the officers as required, the Democrat and Chronicle reported that Mazzeo said there were no violations of policy here, because there are no clear policies.
I asked for more information about the officer who sprayed the pepper spray in the face of the 9-year-old child. Here’s Mazzeo’s response: He made a decision that he thought was the best action to take. #roc @DandC pic.twitter.com/yrTt6EaD9H
— Will Cleveland (@WillCleveland13) January 31, 2021
The girl was taken to a local hospital and later released. Police are saying the city’s Office of Crisis Intervention Services, which is trained to respond to calls regarding mental health crises, was not dispatched because the initial 911 call seemed to indicate a need for police response. On Jan. 21, Rochester launched its Person in Crisis Team meant to take over the response to this type of emergency from police.
People in mental health crises are 16 times more likely to die in encounters with law enforcement than mentally healthy individuals, and across the country, cities are creating separate crisis teams specialized in de-escalation to keep police out of these situations.
Rochester’s Police Accountability Board will be reviewing the incident.