Police in Rochester, New York, have come under renewed criticism after body-camera footage showed an officer pepper-spraying a handcuffed nine-year-old girl.
Video released by police showed the girl being restrained after officers were summoned to a family disturbance on Friday. Crying and shouting “I want my dad”, the girl was led to a police car and was sitting in the back seat when a male officer told his colleague: “Just spray her at this point.”
Police proceed to pepper-spray the nine-year-old, who screams and shouts: “Wipe my eyes, please.” An officer then closes the door to the car. The video shows at least seven officers were present.
Rochester police were already under scrutiny over the death of a mentally ill black man in March 2020. Daniel Prude, 41, died of asphyxiation after officers put a hood over his head and pressed his head to the pavement for two minutes.
Rochester police released body camera footage six months after Prude’s death, after his family sued the city. The incident prompted national protest. The police chief was fired.
Regarding the Friday incident, Andre Anderson, Rochester’s deputy police chief, said officers were told the girl had “indicated that she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom”.
Anderson told reporters officers chased the girl as she attempted to flee. Police decided to take the nine-year-old to hospital, but Anderson said the girl refused to get into a police car.
“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 video shows officers wrestling with the nine-year-old in the snow. At one point an officer says: “You’re acting like a child.”
The girl responds: “I am a child.”
Rochester police chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said: “I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a nine-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK. We’re going to do the work we have to do to ensure that these kinds of things don’t happen.”
However, the president of Rochester’s police union defended the officers involved.
“[The officer] made a decision there that he thought was the best action to take. It resulted in no injury to her,” Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, told reporters. “Had they had to go and push further, and use more force, there’s a good chance she could have been hurt worse.”
Mazzeo added: “It’s very very difficult to get somebody into the back of a police car like that.”
Rochester mayor Lovely Warren said that speaking as a mother of a 10-year-old daughter, the video “is not anything you want to see”.
In a statement, Warren added: “I am deeply troubled by the macing and handcuffing of a child who is in distress and clearly emotional.”