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Rochester Mayor Suspends Police Officers Who Pepper-Sprayed 9-Year-Old Girl

A frame from a Rochester Police bodycam video showing a girl in handcuffs in the back of a police cruiser.
A frame from a Rochester Police bodycam video showing a girl in handcuffs in the back of a police cruiser.

Updated at 5:23 p.m. ET

Rochester, N.Y., police officers involved in restraining and pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl last Friday were suspended Monday by order of Mayor Lovely Warren "at a minimum" until the conclusion of an internal police investigation.

"Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action," Warren said in a statement.

The suspensions came after city officials released police body-camera footage showing the encounter between officers and the girl.

Officials said that police were responding to a family disturbance and that the girl was suicidal and upset. They said officers detained the minor to assist her, and they were trying to get her to move fully inside a police vehicle.

The video, released Sunday, shows the girl crying and begging for her father. Officials have not identified the girl. The number of officers suspended and their names have also not been released.

The incident renews scrutiny on the city and its police department following the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man with a history of mental illness who died of asphyxiation after an encounter with officers in March.

Details of Prude's death were not made public until months later, leading to protests in the city.Several members of the Rochester Police Department command staff were terminated or left the department.

"I'm not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to be pepper-sprayed is OK. It's not," interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said at a Sunday afternoon news conference.

She vowed to continue to do the work to implement reform within the department to ensure incidents like this do not happen in the future.

A domestic disturbance police call

"I'm not making any excuses for what transpired," Rochester Executive Deputy Chief Andre Anderson said Sunday as he described the incident.

He said police responded to a call Friday about "family trouble" at a residence in northern Rochester just before 3:30 p.m. The girl said she wanted to kill herself and her mother, Anderson said, and officers at the scene "made an effort to try to secure her." He said her mother also was involved.

An officer decided to try to move the child to a police vehicle so that she could be transferred to a hospital, Anderson said, but the child "thrashed around."

"From what was observed, it didn't appear as if she was resisting the officer," Anderson said. "She was trying not to be restrained to go to the hospital."

The officer-worn camera footage, which contains graphic language and disturbing images, shows officers trying to restrain the girl as she falls in the snow. The officers put handcuffs on her as she screams out repeatedly: "I want my dad!"

In a separate video released by police, it appears that at least six police vehicles arrive at the scene.

As law enforcement officers try to get the girl in the patrol car, she pleads with officers to get the snow off her. She screams again and again for her father and says her arm is hurting.

"You're acting like a child," one officer yells at the child.

"I am a child!" the girl screams back.

The girl, who is sitting in the back of the patrol car with her legs outside on the ground, refuses officer's commands to sit back and move inside the vehicle.

A female officer arrives and implores the girl to comply.

"This is your last chance or pepper spray is going in your eyeballs, come on," the female officer says.

"This is not something that any of us should want to justify, can justify and is something we have to change, it is not an option," Warren said Sunday after police video was released of police pepper spraying a 9-year-old girl. The mayor is seen above during a press conference in Rochester, N.Y., in September where she announced the suspension of officers involved in the death of Daniel Prude.
Adrian Kraus / AP
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said of the police video: "This is not something that any of us should want to justify, can justify and is something we have to change. It is not an option."

A few seconds later, the girl screams as she is hit with pepper spray and then begs officers to wipe her eyes. It isn't clear which officer sprayed the eye irritant.

The police video ends with one officer exclaiming, "Unbelievable."

Mayor calls for an investigation

Warren said Sunday that she has asked for the police department to investigate the incident. She said she also welcomes a review of the incident by the city's Police Accountability Board.

"I have a 10-year-old daughter. ... She's a child. She's a baby," Warren said. "And I can tell you that this video, as a mother, is not anything that you want to see. It's not."

"This is not something that any of us should want to justify, can justify and is something we have to change. It is not an option," Warren said. She added that officers must have compassion and empathy when dealing with "a child who is suffering in this way."

Warren also said she has been in communication with the girl's mother and offered support and resources from the city, NPR member station WXXI in Rochester reported.

New York state Attorney General Letitia James called the treatment of the girl "deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable. 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."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.