By CAROLYN THOMPSON Associated Press
The city of Rochester has suspended police officers seen in body-camera videos spraying a chemical “irritant” in the face of a distraught and handcuffed 9-year-old girl, officials announced Monday.
The city did not specify how many officers were suspended. The suspensions will last at least until an internal police investigation is completed.
The action was announced as community outrage swelled following the release of footage Sunday showing officers restraining and scolding the girl, who was screaming for her father. At one point, an officer is heard telling her to “stop acting like a child,” to which she cried, “I am a child.”
Police said officers were responding to a report of “family trouble” Friday.
The police body camera video shows numerous police cars and officers on the snowy scene. After being restrained on the ground, the girl, wearing flowered leggings and a black sweatshirt, asks, “Can you please get the snow off of me? It’s cold.”
“You had your chance,” one officer tells her, while another shouts, “Get in the car now!”
Mayor Lovely Warren met with the interim police chief, Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, before announcing the disciplinary action.
“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged all of our community,” Warren said in a statement. “Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James said Monday her office was “looking into” what happened. She called the incident “deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable.”
James last year empaneled a grand jury to investigate the actions of several Rochester police officers following the death of Daniel Prude. Prude died after officers responding to a call for help from his brother put a hood over the naked man’s head and pressed his face into the pavement.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo condemned the officers’ actions in a statement issued 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,” the statement said.
“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 added.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said Rochester police should no longer be involved in mental health crises.
“There is no conceivable justification for the Rochester police to subject a 9-year-old to pepper spray, period,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said Monday.
Also Monday, two Rochester state lawmakers, Sen. Samra Brouk and Assemblyman Demond Meeks, both Democrats, announced legislation to prohibit use of chemical agents against minors by police officers.
“To see such horrific footage of the mistreatment of a little girl, no less, was simply unreal. We have to remember who we’re talking about here,” Brouk said during a video news conference. “This is a child. She’s in elementary school.”
At a news conference Sunday, Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson described the girl as suicidal. She was eventually taken to Rochester General Hospital and later released to her family.
The day after the incident, the police said the girl disobeyed commands to put her feet in the car. An officer was then “required” to spray an “irritant” in the handcuffed girl’s face, the department said.