3 officers suspended after police pepper spray 9-year-old girl in Rochester, N.Y.

Tim Stelloh and Julie Goldstein
·4 min read

One police officer was suspended and two were placed on administrative leave in Rochester, New York, two days after the release of a video showing authorities pepper spraying a 9-year-old girl while responding to a report of “family trouble,” officials said.

In a statement released early into Tuesday, a spokesman for Mayor Lovely Warren said the Rochester Police Department immediately removed the three involved officers from patrol duties. The suspension was ordered after Warren met with the Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.

The internal investigation is ongoing and the spokesman did not respond to a request for additional details. The suspensions will remain in place until an internal probe is completed.

Videos of protests showed hundreds of people marching on Rochester's snowy streets chanting, "Black lives matter," and gathering outside the city's police station on Monday night as state officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, condemned the officers' actions.

"This isn't how the police should treat anyone, let alone a 9-year-old girl," Cuomo said in statement.

"What happened in Rochester on Friday is deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable," Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. "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."

During a news conference Sunday, Warren told reporters that the Jan. 29 incident was “not something that any of us should want to justify.” She added that she saw her own child’s face in the face of the 9-year-old.

Officers were called on Friday afternoon after a report that the girl was threatening to harm herself and her mother, Andre Anderson, deputy chief of the Rochester police, told reporters Sunday.

When officers tried to move the girl into a police car to take her to a hospital, she resisted, kicking one of the officers, Anderson said.

Body camera video released by the police department Sunday shows authorities handcuffing the girl while she repeatedly screams for her father and refuses to get in the vehicle.

“You’re acting like a child,” one of the officers says at one point.

“I am a child,” she can be heard responding.

In the video, officers can be heard saying that they would pepper spray her if she continued to resist. When an officer did, Anderson said, the “effects of that did work.”

It isn't clear what happened before or after the video, which was edited by police, though Anderson said the girl was eventually taken to Rochester General Hospital and released.

The officers in the video have not been identified and additional details about the incident weren’t immediately available. A message left with the Rochester Police Department requesting an incident report wasn’t returned Sunday night.

The city's police union also did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in comments cited by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, union president Mike Mazzeo said the officer made a decision to subdue the girl and acted in a way that didn't injure her.

"I'm not saying there are not better ways to do things," Mazzeo told the newspaper. "But let's be realistic about what we're facing. ... It's not TV, it's not Hollywood. We don't have a simple (situation), where we can put out our hands and have somebody be instantly handcuffed and comply."

The confrontation comes less than a year after Daniel Prude, 41, died while being restrained by Rochester police with a “spit hood” over his head.

The police department’s chief and entire command staff resigned after Prude’s death, and the city enacted law enforcement reforms, including moving crisis intervention from the purview of police.

The city launched a “person in crisis” response team earlier this month, according to NBC affiliate WHEC, but it didn’t respond to Friday's confrontation because the initial 911 call didn't warrant it, Warren said.

“There were a number of events happening at once at this location, all of which required a police response,” she said.

She added that the city aims to provide a joint response between police and the crisis team to “improve how we protect our community.”