A police officer's decision to pepper-spray a 9-year-old girl who was being detained during a family dispute on Friday has led to the suspensions of the two officers involved, according to multiple reports.
"What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged, all of our community," Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement after meeting with interim Rochester Police Department chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, reports the Democrat & Chronicle.
"Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action," Warren added.
The statement did not name the officers involved.
On Sunday, the city released police-worn body camera video of the incident that occurred on Friday, reports Rochester TV station WHEC. Prior to the announcement of the suspensions, Herriott-Sullivan said at a Sunday news conference, "I'm not going to stand here and tell you it's okay for a 9-year-old to be pepper sprayed, it's not."
At the news conference, Warren said, "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."
She added: "This is not something that any of us should want to justify, can justify, this is something we have to change. It's not an option. We must change how we do business, how we treat people. We have to understand, that they at the very core are human beings and we must treat each other as we want to be treated, as we want our loved ones to be treated."
Police said a 911 call reporting "family trouble" led nine officers and supervisors to respond around 3:30 p.m. Friday for a possible stolen vehicle, but that during the response, the girl's mother, who was the child's custodial parent, told an officer that she feared the child might hurt herself or others, reports the Democrat & Chronicle.
The girl "indicated she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom," Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson told reporters at the news conference.
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He said the girl fled the residence, and an officer chased and caught up to her. "What is going on? How can I help?," the officer is overheard saying in video of the incident.
The girl's mother then also caught up, and an argument between mother and child ensued, with the girl growing more agitated as passing drivers slowed and the mother engaged them, creating further "distraction," Anderson said.
Police said in a news release the girl began "to pull away and kick at officers, which required an officer to take the minor down to the ground," reports WROC.
Next, according to the statement, "for the minor's safety and at the request of the custodial parent on scene," the girl was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car as officers awaited an ambulance.
As the girl allegedly defied multiple commands to place her feet into the patrol car, an officer was "required" to spray an "irritant" in her face, police said in the statement.
In the body camera footage, a female officer can be heard telling the girl, "I'm gonna pepper spray you, and I don't want to, so sit back … this is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray is going in your eyeballs, come on let's go."
The child was treated at a local hospital, then released back to her family.
"The incident is under review at this time," Police Capt. Mark Mura said when asked what policies "required" the use of an irritant, reports the Democrat & Chronicle. "We will comment on this question after all [body cam] video and procedures have been reviewed."
At a separate news conference on Sunday, Rochester police union president Mike Mazzeo said, "There's nothing that anyone can say they did that's inappropriate," reports WHEC.
"We're not saying that's the best answer or the right answer. Nobody has those answers," he said. "I don't know who could do any better job. If two male PIC people, whatever they are, arrived, what would they do? How can they restrain? How can they stop her?"
"We don't have the answers," he said, "but we also shouldn't be to blame."
Rochester police sparked widespread outrage for a response last March to a mental health call involving Daniel Prude, 41, who died days after he was restrained in handcuffs and forced to the ground with a "spit hood" over his head.
His death was ruled a homicide caused by "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint," according to the New York Times.
Mayor Warren pledged reforms after Prude's death. The department's then-chief resigned following days of protests, and the police department created a "Person in Crisis," or PIC, response team to handle certain 911 calls involving mental health or substance abuse situations, reports the Democrat & Chronicle. The PIC team was activated just last month.
But the PIC team was not alerted to Friday's incident because it involved "a number events happening at the same time that required a police response," the mayor said.
"This was not an incident where the PIC team would have been called because of the type of initial call to 911," she said at the news conference.
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