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‘Simply Horrible’: Rochester Police Officers Suspended After Pepper-Spraying 9-Year-Old

“This is your last chance,” officers told the girl before dousing her with a chemical irritant. “Otherwise pepper spray is going into your eyeballs.”

By Dorian Geiger
Rochester Police Pepper-Spray 9-Year-Old Prompting Outrage

Multiple Rochester, New York police officers have been suspended after a 9-year-old girl was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed inside a squad car last week, city officials said. 

Two videos capturing the violent arrest were made public over the weekend. Mayor Lovely Warren announced the suspensions in a series of tweets on Monday.

“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged, all of our community,” Warren said.

The officers in question weren’t publicly identified, nor did the city specify how many were suspended. 

On Jan. 29, at least nine city officers responded to a Rochester family’s home after receiving reports of “family trouble,” police said, CBS News reported. Body camera footage of the arrest shows a young child, who appears to be Black but whose face is blurred, being handcuffed and hauled into the back of a police cruiser. 

Rochester Police 2

“Stop acting like a child,” one officer tells her.

She replied, “I am a child.”

The distressed girl, who can be heard screaming for her father, was sprayed with a chemical irritant while she was immobilized in the backseat, police confirmed, according to WTVM.

“This is your last chance,” officers told the girl. “Otherwise pepper spray is going into your eyeballs.”

The girl, who police said repeatedly resisted arrest, was possibly suicidal and may have been having a psychological episode at the time of the incident. She was sprayed with the irritant after allegedly disobeying officers’ commands.

“Just spray her at this point,” an officer is heard saying in the body camera footage. 

The girl was taken to the hospital, treated, and released. Her identity hasn’t been released.

On Sunday, the city’s top police officials condemned its own officers’ handling of the situation. 

"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," Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan told reporters. "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."

Rochester Police

Warren also called on state legislators to enact policy changes to New York’s Civil Service Law that would grant cities more autonomy — and authority — in holding law enforcement agencies accountable in possible cases of police brutality.

“Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action,” Warren added. “I will lead the charge that these laws be changed as part of our response to the Governor’s Executive Order 203.”

The officers’ suspensions will run until the Police Accountability Board can complete their investigation into the incident.

The flurry of suspensions follows another racially-charged police brutality scandal that dogged the city’s force. Daniel Prude, a Black father, was suffocated by Rochester police officers in March 2020 while visiting family in the city. Prude was struggling with mental health issues, according to his family.

The Rochester Police Department didn’t respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

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