The Rochester Police Department is in the spotlight again after the release of a video on Sunday morning showing officers throwing a 9-year-old child to the ground, handcuffing her and then pepper-spraying her, according to WHEC and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
The distressed child repeatedly asks for her father as the officers push her head into the snow and yell at her while other officers look on. Two white officers violently throw her to the ground and handcuff her as she continues to scream for help.
After dragging her to into the back of a police car, the child is pepper-sprayed by two officers. One officer yells, “stop acting like a child,” to which the 9-year-old responds, “I am a child.”
“This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray’s going in your eyeballs,” one officer says before another said, “Just spray her at this point.”
Despite growing outrage over the video, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan would not say if any discipline has been handed down to the officers involved in the situation.
“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,” Herriott-Sullivan said during a press conference.
Warren, who faced backlash last summer for her mishandling of the police department killing of Daniel Prude, told reporters, “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.”
But when pressed on why so many police were even responding to a situation like this and whether there would be any consequences for the officers involved, she had no answers. She would not even name the officers involved.
The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported that the situation started on Friday afternoon when nine Rochester Police Department officers responded to a call about “family trouble” and a stolen vehicle. When the officers arrived, the 9-year-old’s mother said the girl “indicated she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom,” Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said during Sunday’s press conference, calling the child “suicidal.”
The girl ran away from the home and officers chased her, but on the video, the child becomes even more distressed when her mother catches up with her, and she repeatedly asks to be taken to her father.
The police department released a statement on Saturday claiming they had no choice but to force the child to the ground and handcuff her “for the minor’s safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene.”
The 9-year-old was eventually taken to Rochester General Hospital where she was treated and then released to a family member.
“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,” Warren said during the press conference.
In response to the outrage over the violent killing of Prude last March, the city created a Person in Crisis Team that allows 911 operators to send calls to them instead of the police. But Warren would not explain why this situation was not directed to them, only reiterating that it required a police response.
“There are no circumstances to justify the cruel treatment RPD inflicted upon a 9-year-old. Period. I’m disappointed that the city’s new ‘Person In Crisis’ team was not utilized. Multiple armed officers should not be the first line of response for a person in crisis, let alone a child,” New York state senator Jeremy Cooney told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
New York State Assemblyman Demond Meeks released a scathing statement on Twitter calling for the officers to be fired for their actions.
“Police contract be dammed, I want these police officers fired TODAY. There is no excuse to mace a 9-year-old girl, a child who was helplessly handcuffed & in your control. Enough with the platitudes & enough w/ ‘good intentions.’ Action today,” Meeks wrote.
Police contract be dammed, I want these police officers fired TODAY. There is no excuse to mace a 9-year-old girl, a child who was helplessly handcuffed & in your control. Enough with the platitudes & enough w/ “good intentions”. Action today.https://t.co/4rNgIgtqrX
— Demond Meeks (@DemondLMeeks) January 31, 2021
Conor Dwyer Reynolds, executive director of the Rochester Police Accountability Board, released a scathing letter with dozens of questions about the incident. Neither Warren, Herriott-Sullivan, nor Anderson responded.
“While the Board cannot hold disciplinary hearings regarding this or any other incident, the Board still has the legal duty to review all RPD policies and practices – including those involved in the incident on Harris Street,” Reynolds wrote.
“Such practices may include inappropriate officer response to mental health crises, inappropriate officer use of chemical weapons, and the handcuffing of children by RPD officers. The Board notes that the Harris Street incident appears to be the second time in a year that RPD officers have handcuffed a child,” Reynolds added.
Warren said during the press conference that she has called for an investigation into the incident.