Updated: March 05, 2021 05:07 PM
Created: March 05, 2021 08:24 AM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The Rochester Police Department released bodycam footage from a February arrest in which a woman pepper-sprayed in the presence of her child, prompting calls for change from Rochester's Police Accountability Board.
The arrest happened on Feb. 22 after police were called to a store on Portland Avenue near Clifford Avenue for the report of a shoplifter who was arguing with a store employee. According to police, officers spotted the woman, and during the interaction "a struggle ensued" and the woman was pepper-sprayed and arrested. RPD says the woman's child was not pepper-sprayed or injured in the incident.
Additionally, the officer involved was put on administrative leave.
RPD released the footage just minutes after the PAB finished a Friday morning briefing regarding the incident. The footage is about 108 minutes long and can be viewed below.
WARNING: This video may have disturbing language and imagery. Viewer discretion is advised. Watch the additional footage here.
In a statement, RPD says the child was not pepper-sprayed or injured. The woman was issued an appearance ticket. pic.twitter.com/cz81Mxi1iD— news10nbc (@news10nbc) March 5, 2021
Interim RPD Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan held a briefing Friday. The chief reiterated that the child was not pepper-sprayed during the incident.
The woman was charged with trespassing because the chief says, she was instructed to leave several times and was knocking items off the shelves in Rite Aid.
.@RochesterNYPD chief says officers were dispatched for shoplifting complaint. Woman ran a/child in her arms. When chased, she was directed to put the child down which she did before pepper-spray was deployed. Officer put on administrative leave during investigation. @news10nbc pic.twitter.com/z7hNyyHDJR— Jennifer Lewke (@WHEC_JLewke) March 5, 2021
Executive Deputy Chief Andrew Anderson explained that the RPD is in a transitional process of modifying a number of its policies with the help and advice from numerous community groups.
Policy changes include juvenile detention policies on how they deal with young offenders, new policies on chokeholds, new mental health arrest policies.
There will also be a new duty to intervene policy, meaning police must intervene if other officers are violating policies.
Anderson says they will also implement mindset training in the hopes of getting officers to get enough sleep, eat well and take care of themselves.
RPD says it is rolling out new “compassion fatigue,” “mindset,” “leadership,” and “de-escalation” training programs for officers. There will also be new race-relations training @news10nbc— Jennifer Lewke (@WHEC_JLewke) March 5, 2021
Anderson says there will also be race relations training as well as leadership and mental health training. They will also train officers on how to deal with trauma in children.
Anderson says they're in the process of finding instructors, so as of Friday, there is no set date to when the changes in policy and training will be implemented.
Herriott-Sullivan says the department has spent hours reviewing the footage working to determine how it can improve training going forward.
The chief was asked about the department's pepper-spraying policy.
"We do have policies on the use of things such as pepper spray and generally a good view to take on this is if a person is physically resisting then you're safe on pepper spray usage, but obviously you don't want to take it too far," Herriott-Sullivan said.
The city's FACIT program followed up with the family after the incident according to Chief Herriott-Sullivan.
Watch the full press conference in the video below. Click here if you're using a mobile device.
Watch PAB's briefing in its entirety below. Click here if you're using a mobile device.
In the briefing and subsequent statement, the PAB says it watched footage Thursday night of the arrest.The PAB also says another officer confronted a bystander who recorded the incident.
Before RPD release the footage, PAB Chair Shani Wilson said the board would not be releasing the footage, because it has not been redacted. The PAB is also not releasing the name of the officers, RPD had not either. She says the board received the footage from Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott.
Executive Director Connor Dwyer Reynolds said the PAB is "disturbed" by the incident, and compared it to a similar pepper-spraying incident on Jan. 31 on Harris Street where RPD officers pepper-sprayed a nine-year-old girl. One officer, Alexander Lombard, was suspended, while officers Chad Brady, Adam Bradstreet and Hannah Schneeberger were placed on administrative leave.
In an interview with News10NBC Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean, RPD Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said, "I've said I do not believe it's okay to, in those circumstances, to pepper spray a 9-year-old. I've said that."
It led to local lawmakers introducing a bill that would prohibit the use of pepper spray on a child.
The girl's mother, Elba Pope says she is suing the city as a result of the incident.
Back with the Portland Avenue incident, Dwyer Reynolds said two officers who were at the Harris scene were also allegedly involved in the Portland scene. Additionally, the board stressed increased sensitivity training for officers, with an emphasis on pushing elected leaders to call for change.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren issued the following statement.
“When incidents like this occur, I am relieved that I ensured body-worn cameras are worn by our police, so we can see what occurs on our streets and hold officers accountable.
These videos are certainly disturbing. That's why Chief Herriott Sullivan is not waiting for the Executive Order 203 process to be completed. She is working to make sweeping, but necessary, policy and procedure changes along with mandatory training for officers regarding racism and implicit bias. The last month of community engagement has given her the ability to see the immediate changes that must take place while also working towards the systemic change included in the Executive Order 203 draft plan.
We are updating that plan based upon community feedback and will submit it to City Council next week so they can begin their review. We have to collectively push forward the request to the State allowing the City to immediately terminate officers for cause. Change will not come until we have the ability to fully hold our officers accountable when they violate the public's trust.”
Democratic New York State Senator Samra Brouk also issued a statement.
“The urgency grows every day to pass my bill in the Senate that prohibits the use of chemical irritants against minors (S4002). Once again, we have learned of a disturbing, traumatic, and violent response by police involving a young child in Rochester. I am outraged by new reports that RPD officers pepper-sprayed a mother while she was holding her 3-year-old child—and, later in the incident, used a police vehicle to block their appalling actions from public view. Despite months of protest and discussion about the unnecessary use of force by Rochester's law enforcement, this incident illustrates that our community's concerns are not being heard. Our lives matter and these abusive practices must end now.”
You can view the PAB's full statement below.
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