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

A screenshot from Rochester Police Department bodycam footage released Sunday.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Police in New York state released two bodycam videos on Sunday that showed officers restraining a distraught 9-year-old girl who was handcuffed and later 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 emotionally 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 can be heard repeatedly and frantically screaming for her father as officers try to restrain her after responding to a call for “family trouble” on Friday afternoon. A total of nine officers and RPD supervisors ended up responding to the call, police said.

At a Sunday press conference, 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 can be heard asking the girl, “What is going on? How can I help?”

When officers then 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, adding that “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 was “required” to spray 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 on Sunday described the irritant as pepper spray.

That part of the interaction plays out near the end of the second video. As the girl continues to struggle and cry, an officer can be heard saying, “Just spray her at this point” and closes 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 press conference. “It is clear from the video we need to do more in support of our children and families.”

Said Herriott-Sullivan, “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.”

Inv. Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing uniformed officers, asked for patience in this incident. 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 added. 

Instead, he said the officer, who has not been identified, made a decision 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 press 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 on out our hands and have somebody be instantly handcuffed and comply. It’s not a simple situation.”

The city recently launched a Person in Crisis Team, which is under its reimagined Office of Crisis Intervention Services. It was formed 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. It became public five months later and sparked massive protests, where there were calls for RPD to change how it responds to calls involving mental health distress.

Marcia Greenwood on Twitter, @MarciaGreenwood.

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