Three Rochester, New York, officers have been removed from patrol duty after an incident in which a 9-year-old girl was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed, Interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said.
Body camera videos of Friday’s encounter — released by the police department over the weekend — showed officers restraining the child, putting her in handcuffs and attempting to get her inside the back of a police vehicle as she repeatedly cries and calls for her father.
The officers were responding to what police called a report of “family trouble” in an encounter sharply criticized by city officials. The incident led to protests in the community.
Herriott-Sullivan said in a statement that the decision to remove the officers from patrol came in response to Mayor Lovely Warren’s order that the three officers be immediately suspended.
One officer has been suspended, and two were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, according to the statement.
In two body camera videos, the officers are seen pepper-spraying the girl after she failed to follow commands to put her feet inside the car.
The girl was transported to Rochester General Hospital, where she was later released, according to police.
The officers involved were suspended Monday, city officials said. CNN has reached out to the police union for comment.
The incident has been compared to the disturbing death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died in March after Rochester police pinned him to the ground and placed a hood over his head as he experienced a mental health crisis.
The police body camera footage of that incident, released in August after city officials intentionally delayed its release, led to protests over the police’s treatment of Black people and those experiencing mental health crises. Mayor Lovely Warren later fired the police chief, saying there was a “pervasive problem” in the police department.
CNN has not been able to verify the race of the 9-year-old with authorities or family members.
At a news conference Sunday, Herriott-Sullivan said the treatment of the girl was not acceptable.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Warren said the girl reminded her of her own young daughter.
On Monday, New York state Sen. Samra Brouk and Assemblyman Demond Meeks, both Democrats, introduced legislation that would prohibit police use of chemical agents against minors in the state, according to a statement.
“The harrowing experience endured by a nine-year-old girl in our community — including being handcuffed and pepper sprayed — should never happen to another child,” Brouk said in a statement. “This legislation will ensure that when a child is in crisis, they will never again be met with such violence in the form of pepper spray or other chemical irritants.”
Police called to a report of ‘family trouble’
Officers were called to a home on the afternoon of January 29 for a report of “family trouble,” Rochester Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said Sunday.
The officers were told the girl was “suicidal” and that she had “indicated that she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom,” the deputy chief explained.
The girl tried to flee from officers, Anderson said, and video released by police shows an officer chase her and attempt to provide assistance.
Afterward, he said, her mother arrived and the body camera video shows the two arguing. Anderson said officers then decided to remove the child from the situation and transport her to an area hospital.
But the girl refused to get inside a police vehicle, “thrashed around,” and kicked an officer, knocking his body camera around, according to Anderson.
“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 body camera video shows the girl repeatedly crying out for her father, while being physically restrained by officers. She is seen screaming before her head is held down against the snow-covered ground and is handcuffed. A struggle ensues between the girl and officers as they attempt to get her inside the back of a police vehicle.
At one point, one officer says, “You’re acting like a child.”
“I am a child!” the girl responds.
Later in the video, a female officer is seen talking to the girl, eventually saying, “This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray’s going in your eyeballs.” About a minute later, another officer can be heard saying, “Just spray her at this point.” The female officer is seen shaking a can that appears to be pepper spray and the child continues to scream.
The officers involved in the incident were not identified by police, nor were the child or her mother.
Anderson said Sunday he was “not making any excuses for what transpired” and that the department is “looking at a culture change.” The department is in the process of reviewing many policies and looking to make changes, according to Anderson.
Mayor Warren said she has directed the chief of police to conduct a complete and thorough investigation of the incident and said she welcomes the review of what happened by the city’s police accountability board.
After Monday’s officer suspensions, she said what happened was “simply horrible.”
“Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action,” she said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a tweet Monday that her office is looking into the incident as well. She called the incident “deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his state and across the nation, the relationship between police and community is “clearly not working.”
“Rochester needs to reckon with a real police accountability problem, and this alarming incident demands a full investigation that sends a message this behavior won’t be tolerated,” he said.