The Rochester, New York Police Department released body-camera footage Sunday showing a 9-year-old girl being handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by officers who were responding to a domestic disturbance, reportedly including a potentially stolen vehicle.
Last Friday afternoon, officers received a 911 call reporting “family trouble” and upon arrival found a 9-year-old girl dressed in a black hoodie and colored leggings. The girl “indicated that she wanted to kill herself, and she wanted to kill her mom,” Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said at a press conference Sunday. Other reports indicate that during the call, officers were approached by the girl’s custodial parent, who said she was afraid her daughter would harm herself or others.
The 9-year-old initially tried running away, Anderson said. Video footage shows an officer chasing her and attempting to provide assistance, telling the girl to “come here” and assuring her she was “not in trouble.” The girl’s mother later arrived, kicking off an argument between mother and daughter in which the mother hurled profanities and insults at the child.
Screaming and crying, the girl repeatedly told officers, “I want my dad.” Footage shows the girl resisting law enforcement, and she appears to have been handcuffed lying down in the snow while pleading with officers to stop. Anderson said officers were trying to escort the girl to the hospital, in accordance with the state’s Mental Hygiene law, but she refused to get into the back of the police car, at one point kicking an officer.
“You’re acting like a child,” one officer said, to which the girl replied, “I am a child.”
When the girl was halfway inside the police car, refusing to get fully inside as officers commanded, a female officer said, “This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray’s going in your eyeballs.” Law enforcement tried to get her to relax and take a deep breath, but about a minute later, a different officer said, “Just spray her at this point.” The female officer is seen shaking a can that appears to be pepper-spray and reportedly discharged the irritant into the girl’s face.
Rochester police said this handcuffed, 9-year-old girl’s actions “required” them to pepper spray her.
Big trigger warning. Horrifying.
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) February 1, 2021
As the girl screamed, officers successfully placed her into the back seat of the car and shut the door. “Unbelievable,” an officer said after the car door was closed.
At one point, an officer said, “You’re acting like a child.” She responded, “I am a child.”
When she refused to sit inside a police car, an officer pepper-sprayed her. https://t.co/5AdrLkiBD5
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) February 1, 2021
The confrontation took place in what appears to be a residential neighborhood. Video footage shows at least six police vehicles were present by the end of the incident. The girl was reportedly driven to Rochester General Hospital and has since been discharged.
Police department officials released the videos of the altercation about 48 hours after the Friday event. The child’s face has been blurred in the video, and her name has not been made public.
Anderson said he is “not making any excuses for what transpired” and that the department is “looking at a culture change.”
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK,” said the Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.
“I can tell you that this video, as a mother, is not anything that you want to see,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. “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.”
Warren said she has directed the chief of police to conduct an investigation of the incident and said she welcomes a review from the city’s Police Accountability Board.