1 officer suspended, 2 on leave after child handcuffed, pepper sprayed in Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — One Rochester police officer involved in the pepper spraying of a 9-year-old has been suspended, and two others have been placed on administrative leave. According to the Rochester Police Department, all three have been removed from patrol duties.

The suspensions are in effect until, at minimum, the results of an internal investigation into the events that transpired Friday are concluded.

Monday afternoon, city officials said the officers were suspended with pay, on the condition that a suspension without pay couldn’t last more than 30 days without a concluded internal investigation.

“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged, all of our community,” said Mayor Warren in a Monday statement. “Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action. I will lead the charge that these laws be changed as part of our response to the Governor’s Executive Order 203. And, we will be asking our state legislators to join me, and make numerous changes in Civil Service Law that would allow cities to more quickly issue discipline in cases like this one.”

City officials add “the suspensions, by law and contract, begin the legal process to fully determine what happened and what discipline needs to be enforced in response.”

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

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 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 Rochester Police Department after a nine-year-old girl was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by officers Friday.

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.”

MORE | State legislators propose ban on chemical agents against minors by police officers

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.

Body camera footage

Mayor Lovely Warren press conference

Rochester police union press conference

Rev. Lewis Stewart press conference

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

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