The head of the police union in Rochester, New York, has said that no rules were broken by officers who ended up pepper-spraying a handcuffed nine-year-old girl after being called to a domestic dispute last week. The arrest was caught on body camera, which has since been released.
The Rochester Police Department (RPD) on Sunday released two videos of the apprehension that took place last Friday afternoon. At least seven officers were called to the domestic dispute. They had been told by the girl’s mother that the child was going harm herself and others.
One officer was in the middle of asking the girl what had happened when the mom walked over and started arguing and cussing at her daughter.
“She stabbed by dad,” the girl tells the police officer.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about … You’re lying,” the mom says.
As the mother became more aggressive, the officer tells her to back off. “You’re not helping,” he says.
The officer then attempts to separate the pair, telling the girl they would go to the police car to talk.
“Put her in your car,” he tells another officer.
“Let’s go have a seat. You’re not gonna run off, you’re gonna be fine,” the officer says.
But the girl refuses to get into the car until she sees her dad. “I just want to see my dad, please, for the last time.”
She slides to the ground on the bonnet of the police car, attempting to kick free from the officers, knocking one officer’s bodycam to the ground. The officers then restrain and handcuff her as she lay on the ground in the snow.
“You go help my mum, she’s pregnant,” the girl then pleads, before going on screaming, “I want my dad.”
Officers continue to try and get the girl to cooperate with them and enter the car. But they were loosing patience.
“You need to get warm ok, otherwise, you’re going to get hypothermia,” a female officer told her.
“You had your chance,” a male officer tells her, while another shouts, “Get in the car now!”
“This is your last chance. Otherwise pepper spray is going into your eyeballs,” the female officer says, adding, “I will call” your dad.
Towards the end a the second video of the incident, police pepper-spray the girl, who had her feet still outside the vehicle while sitting on the backseat.
The nine-year-old screamed and begged the officers to wipe her eyes as officers outside the vehicles closed the doors. The officers could then be heard saying they would arrest the mom too.
The girl was taken to Rochester General Hospital for observation and later released to family members.
President of the police union the Rochester Police Locust Club said Monday that although the arrest had not been an ideal situation, there had been no violation of conduct by police during the incident.
“We’re dealing with a very, very difficult situation, and what police officers are confronted and faced [with], and the limited resources that are out there,” union president Mike Mazzeo said.
“When it’s determined that she needs help, and there’s a mental hygiene, they have to be restrained. 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,” he said of the police officers.
“[The officer] made a decision there that he thought was the best action to take. It resulted in no injury to her. Had they had to go and push further, and use more force, there’s a good chance she could have been hurt worse,” he added.
“I’m not saying there’s not better ways to do things, but let’s be realistic here in what we’re facing … It’s not TV, it’s not Hollywood.
“I think it’s clear that there needs to be an overhaul of city government, behavioral health, school district, and the health system. But the only changes being called for is policing. Very narrow vision for what is needed in this city!” he said.
When asked by a reporter about how police were being considerate of the mental impact of their actions on the girl, Mazzeo responded, “How about the traumatic situation that she’s been dealing with. Did you listen to the words that her mother was saying to her? That’s what’s sad. That’s what’s disturbing.
“Officers go home and say, ‘How does that girl have a chance in life.’ What’s that officer supposed to do?” he asked.
The City of Rochester said in a statement on Monday that officers involved in the incident have been suspended. The city did not specify how many officers or who they are.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said the police handling of the girl was unjustifiable, and called on lawmakers to change the state law so that cities can take more immediate action to discipline officers in similar situations.
“Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action,” Warren said. “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.”
The RPD faced criticism last May after a video showing police officers handcuffing a 10-year-old girl in a traffic stop was posted to social media by the girl’s mother. Following an internal review, the police department determined that there was no wrongdoing, and that the girl was handcuffed for her own safety.