Rochester, New York, police release bodycam videos to show why officers were 'required' to handcuff, pepper-spray 9-year-old girl

Marcia Greenwood, Will Cleveland and Brian Sharp, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
·4 min read

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Police released two bodycam videos Sunday that showed officers restraining a distraught 9-year-old girl who was handcuffed and sprayed with a chemical "irritant" when she disobeyed commands.

The release of the video footage by the Rochester Police Department came after Mayor Lovely Warren expressed her concern for the “child that was harmed during this incident that happened on Friday.”

“I have a 10-year-old child, so she’s a child, she’s a baby," Warren said. "This video, as a mother, is not anything you want to see.”

In the videos, the girl repeatedly and frantically screams for her father as officers try to restrain her after responding to a call over "family trouble" Friday afternoon. Nine officers and RPD supervisors responded to the call, police said.

At a news conference Sunday, Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson described the girl as suicidal.

"She indicated she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom,” he said.

In one of the videos, an officer asks the girl, “What is going on? How can I help?”

When officers tried to put the girl into the back of a patrol car, she pulled away and kicked at them.

In a statement Saturday, police said the girl's actions “required” an officer to take her to the ground, and “for the minor’s safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene,” the child was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car as they waited for an ambulance.

An officer sprayed an “irritant” in the handcuffed girl’s face when she disobeyed commands to put her feet in the car, police said Saturday.

Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan described the irritant as pepper spray Sunday.

As the girl struggled and cried, an officer said, “Just spray her at this point” and closed the car door.

The child was taken to Rochester General Hospital under the state’s mental hygiene law and “received the services and care that she needed,” police said.

After being treated, she was released to her family.

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“I’m very concerned about how this young girl was handled by our police department," Warren said at Sunday's news conference. "It is clear from the video we need to do more in support of our children and families.”

Herriott-Sullivan said, “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.”

Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing uniformed officers, asked for patience. He didn't want a rush to judgment before all the necessary information was made public. It does no good to blame one officer, he said.

He said the officer, who has not been identified, decided to subdue the distraught child and acted in a manner that didn't physically injure her.

"I'm not saying there are not better ways to do things," Mazzeo said during a news conference Sunday night. "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. It's not a simple situation."

The city launched a Person in Crisis Team under its Office of Crisis Intervention Services late last year and took away certain responsibilities from RPD. It became operational last week but was not summoned for Friday's call, Warren said.

The city began reassessing its response to mental-health-related calls after the death of Daniel Prude in March 2020. The incident became public five months later and sparked massive protests calling for RPD to change how it responds to calls involving mental health distress.

Marcia Greenwood on Twitter, @MarciaGreenwood.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Rochester police show videos of 9-year-old handcuffed, pepper-sprayed