ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The family of a nine-year-old girl who was handcuffed and pepper sprayed Friday by Rochester police officers has filed a notice of claim against the City of Rochester and the Rochester Police Department.
The notice of claim, the family’s first step in filing a lawsuit against the city and RPD, was filed Tuesday morning and “alleges “infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, excessive force, false arrest and unlawful imprisonment.”
City officials confirmed the notice of claim filing Tuesday and released the following statement:
“Mayor Warren continues to be outraged by what occurred on Friday, and remains concerned that the child involved and her family get the support they need. She has directed city’s resources to assist them. The mayor is continuing to work diligently to reform our police department and ensure accountability.”
As a result of the incident, one Rochester police officer was suspended with pay, and two others were placed on administrative leave, pending results of an internal investigation.
Read the notice of claim:
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 said the girl was “agitated when she saw her custodial parent,” RPD officials said in a weekend 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 pepper spray on the minor. The girl was transported to Rochester General Hospital, treated and later released to her family.
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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 Sunday. “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.”
Prominent local, state, and federal officials are condemning actions by the RPD officers involved in the incident.
A statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo Monday:
“As a human, this incident is disturbing and as a father, it’s heartbreaking—this isn’t how the police should treat anyone, let alone a 9-year-old girl. Across New York and around the country, the relationship between police and the communities they serve is clearly not working, which is why we launched a statewide effort to bring everyone to the table and make real, lasting reform. 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.”
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?”
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello issued this statement Monday:
“Like so many others, I was shocked, saddened and outraged after watching the RPD body-camera footage of the treatment of a 9-year old child being hand cuffed and pepper sprayed over the weekend on Avenue B. As an elected official and a member of this community I am deeply disturbed by what I witnessed.
After seeing the video I immediately reached out to members of the Mental Health Task Force and the County’s Office of Mental Health to talk about challenging what I see as the status quo and how we can be part of a solution. It is clear to me that there were missed opportunities, and had the right steps been taken, the trauma inflicted on this child could have been avoided.
Monroe County’s Forensic Intervention Team was available and could have responded immediately, which could have changed the outcome for this young person and her family. Their support could have gotten that child the services and support she needed in that moment. But unfortunately, they were not called.
As I’ve stressed before not every emergency call should be met with a badge and a gun. No longer can we continue to fall back on ‘this is what they were taught to do’ as an acceptable answer. The only way to make this change is by reforming current policies and procedures, to ensure an appropriate response when working with our vulnerable communities of color; ones that reflect accountability and the sworn duty to protect.“
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.