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September 22, 2021
Rochester Police officers handcuff and pepper-spray a 9-year-old girl after call of 'family trouble'

Rochester Police officers handcuff and pepper-spray a 9-year-old girl after call of ‘family trouble’

Two body camera videos of the incident released by the police department on Sunday show officers restraining the child, putting her in handcuffs and attempting to get her inside the back of a police vehicle as she repeatedly cries and calls for her father.

After the girl fails to follow commands to put her feet inside the car, the officers are then seen pepper-spraying her.

The girl was transported to Rochester General Hospital, where she was later released, according to Rochester Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson.

The police body camera footage of that incident, released in August after city officials intentionally delayed its release, led to protests over the police’s treatment of Black people and those experiencing mental health crises. Mayor Lovely Warren later fired the police chief, saying there was a “pervasive problem” in the police department.

At a press conference on Sunday, Interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said that the police’s treatment of the girl was not acceptable.

“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.”

Mayor Warren said Sunday that she had spoken with the girl’s mother and that the city’s Person in Crisis mental health team would be reaching out to the family.

“It is clear from the video that we need to do more in supporting our children and families,” Warren said.

She also said the girl reminded her of her own young daughter.

“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,” Warren 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.”

Police say they were responding to a report of ‘family trouble’

Officers were called to a home on the afternoon of January 29 for a report of “family trouble,” Anderson said Sunday.

The officers were told the girl was “suicidal” and that she had “indicated that she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom,” the deputy chief explained.

The girl tried to flee from officers, Anderson said, and video released by police shows an officer chase her and attempt to provide assistance.

Afterward, he said, her mother arrived and the body camera video shows the two arguing. Anderson said officers then decided to remove the child from the situation and transport her to an area hospital.

But the girl refused to get inside a police vehicle, “thrashed around,” and kicked an officer, knocking his body camera around, according to Anderson.

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“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.”

The body camera video shows the girl repeatedly crying out for her father, while being physically restrained by officers. She is seen screaming before her head is held down against the snow-covered ground and is handcuffed. A struggle ensues between the girl and officers as they attempt to get her inside the back of a police vehicle.

At one point, one officer says, “You’re acting like a child.”

“I am a child!” the girl responds.

Later in the video, a female officer is seen talking to the girl, eventually saying, “This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray’s going in your eyeballs.” About a minute later, another officer can be heard saying, “Just spray her at this point.” The female officer is seen shaking a can that appears to be pepper spray and the child continues to scream.

The officers involved in the incident were not identified by police, nor were the child or her mother.

Anderson said Sunday he was “not making any excuses for what transpired” and that the department is “looking at a culture change.” The department is in the process of reviewing many policies and looking to make changes, according to Anderson.

Mayor Warren said she has directed the chief of police to conduct a complete and thorough investigation of the incident and said she welcomes the review of what happened by the city’s police accountability board.

CNN’s Hollie Silverman, Laura James, Alec Snyder, Saffeya Ahmed and Eric Levenson contributed to this report.