Officers involved in handcuffing, pepper spraying of 9-year-old NY girl suspended

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Rochester police officers involved in the pepper spraying of a 9-year-old girl have been suspended, city officials confirmed Monday.

Update 5 p.m. ET Feb. 1: The New York city has not identified the officers involved in the incident but did release body camera footage on Sunday documenting the child’s apprehension and detainment following a “family disturbance” call on Friday afternoon.

According to WROC, the city has not confirmed how many officers have been suspended but noted the suspensions would remain in effect until at least the conclusion of the internal investigation of Friday’s events that Rochester Mayor Lovely Ann Warren called “simply horrible.”

“Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action,” Warren stated, vowing to “lead the charge” in making numerous changes in civil service law “that would allow cities to more quickly issue discipline in cases like this one.”

Meanwhile, several high-profile officials have publicly condemned the police officers’ actions following the release of the body camera footage.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who called Friday’s incident “deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable,” issued the following statement Monday:

“Such use of force and pepper spray should never be deployed against a child, period. My office is looking into what transpired and how a child was ever subjected to such danger. It’s clear that drastic reform is needed at the Rochester Police Department to ensure that mental health professionals and child advocates are actually responding to people in need and when minors are involved, and that this type of behavior never occurs again.”

James’ sentiments were echoed by Rev. Lewis Stewart of the United Christian Leadership Ministry, who condemned the officers’ actions and told WROC that tactics such as handcuffs and chemical agents should be banned when dealing with minors.

“UCLM is calling for the Rochester Police Department to review and reevaluate all policies and procedures involving minors,” Stewart told the TV station. “Minors should not be handcuffed. That must be banned. Children must not be chemically sprayed. That too must be banned.”

Rochester Police Union Chief Mike Mazzeo told WROC, however, that the officers did not violate any police procedure.

“When it’s determined that she needs help, and there’s a mental hygiene, they have to be restrained,” Mazzeo said. “If that’s not going to be the policy then we need to change them, but they have to operate on what they have and what they can utilize.”

Original story: The police department in Rochester, New York, released body-camera footage on Sunday of a 9-year-old girl being handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by an officer after she disobeyed commands to put her feet in the patrol car.

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The incident occurred at around 3:30 p.m. Friday and resulted in a total of nine Rochester officers responding to the family disturbance call, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.

According to The New York Times, the video footage shows officers restrain the girl and push her into the snow in order to handcuff her, “while she screamed repeatedly for her father.”

At one point, an officer can be heard saying, “You’re acting like a child,” and the girl responds, “I am a child.”

The incident occurred only months after details became public regarding the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who suffocated last year after Rochester police officers placed him in a hood. Officers had characterized Prude’s death as a drug overdose, but video footage of the fatal encounter disproved the official account and resulted in the abrupt firing of the police chief in September.

Prior to releasing the footage of Friday’s encounter with the 9-year-old girl, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren expressed her concern for the “child that was harmed,” the Democrat & Chronicle reported.

“I have a 10-year-old child, so she’s a child. She’s a baby. This video, as a mother, is not anything you want to see,” Warren said, adding, “I’m very concerned about how this young girl was handled by our police department. It is clear from the video we need to do more in support of our children and families.”

However, Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said during Sunday’s news conference that the situation was complicated by the girl’s state of mind.

“She indicated she wanted to kill herself, and she wanted to kill her mom,” Anderson said.

In a statement issued Saturday, the department contended the girl pulled away and kicked at them when they attempted to put her in the back of the patrol car and said that action “required” an officer to take the girl down to the ground.

The child was then handcuffed and put in the back of a police car “for the minor’s safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene,” her mother, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.

The statement also noted an officer was “required” to spray an “irritant” in the child’s face after she disobeyed multiple commands, but no specific department policy has been cited for the “required” actions, the newspaper 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 Capt. Mark Mura said during the news conference, when asked which department policy required the officers’ actions.

According to the Times, the body camera footage released Sunday was redacted to obscure the child’s face, and she has not been publicly identified.

The Democrat & Chronicle confirmed that the child was taken to Rochester General Hospital, under the state’s mental hygiene law, and released to her family after receiving “the services and care she needed,” according to police.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK,” Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, Rochester’s interim police chief, said during the news conference.