‘Disturbing & unacceptable’: NY AG James, Rep. Morelle on 9-year-old pepper sprayed by RPD

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Prominent state and federal officials are condemning actions by the Rochester Police Department after a nine-year-old girl was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by officers Friday.

A statement Monday from New York State Attorney General Letitia James Monday:

“What happened in Rochester on Friday is 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. It’s clear that drastic reform is needed at the Rochester Police Department to ensure that mental health professionals and child advocates are actually responding to people in need and when minors are involved, and that this type of behavior never occurs again.”

A statement from Rep. Joe Morelle’s office Monday:

“I’m stunned and heartbroken by the Rochester Police Department body camera footage released over the weekend. A child—especially one who is clearly in distress—should never be treated this way, let alone by the very people who are supposed to keep her safe. RPD’s response to this young girl lacked empathy, understanding, and basic common-sense—and if that is what “protocol” looks like, it’s simply unacceptable.

“This child was failed at every level of response to this incident. Resources that could have de-escalated the situation and provided support to a child in crisis were not utilized. How much more trauma must our community endure before real, meaningful action is taken to truly change our police culture and government protocols?”

Body camera footage

Officers responded to a residence on Avenue B on Friday and were approached by the custodial parent of a minor. The custodial parent told the RPD that her child was going to cause self-harm to herself and others before she ran away from the residence.

Police say the girl was “agitated when she saw her custodial parent,” the RPD officials said in a press release. “This caused the minor to pull away and kick at officers, which required an officer to take the minor down to the ground.”

Officers say the minor refused to listen to them as they gave her multiple commands to place her feet inside the patrol car. This required an officer to use an irritant on the minor. The minor was transported to Rochester General Hospital under Mental Hygiene Law 9.41. The minor was treated and released to her family.

MORE | 9-year-old pepper sprayed by Rochester police: Why wasn’t new ‘Person in Crisis’ team called?

RPD is conducing an internal review of the incident, as is Rochester’s Police Accountability Board. Interim Rochester Police Chief Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said Sunday protocol and policies are currently being reviewed.

“Please know this process is continuous for us,” Herriott-Sullivan said. “It’s never going to end. This is the kind of thing we’re always going to be vigilant about, evaluating who we are and what we do as a department.”

The City of Rochester released a statement Monday evening saying officers involved in the incident have been suspended. The city did not specify which officers, or how many.

Mayor Lovely Warren is calling for changes to New York State law that would allow cities to take more immediate action to discipline officers “in cases like this one.”

Rochester Police Union Chief Mike Mazzeo said the officers didn’t break any rules.

“When it’s determined that she needs help, and there’s a mental hygiene, they have to be restrained,” Mazzeo said. “If that’s not going to be the policy then we need to change them but they have to operate on what they have and what they can utilize.”

Rev. Lewis Stewart of the United Christian Leadership Ministry condemned the actions of responding officers Monday and said children should never be handcuffed or pepper-sprayed.

“UCLM s calling for the Rochester Police Department to review and reevaluate all policies and procedures involving minors,” Rev. Stewart said. “Minors should not be handcuffed. That must be banned. Children must not be chemically sprayed. That too must be banned.”

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

The RPD has faced scrutiny since the death of Daniel Prude last year after officers from the department put a hood over his head and pressed his face into the pavement. Investigations by the attorney general’s office and Rochester City Council are ongoing into the matter of Prude’s death.

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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