What we know about the pepper-spraying of 9-year-old in Rochester | WHEC.com

What we know about the pepper-spraying of 9-year-old in Rochester

Emily Putnam
Updated: January 31, 2021 11:32 PM
Created: January 31, 2021 10:41 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The Rochester Police Department released body camera footage Sunday of an officer using an irritant on a 9-year-old girl during a family trouble call Friday afternoon. 

WARNING: This video may have disturbing language and imagery. Viewer discretion is advised.

It seemed like a textbook mental health emergency. According to the child's custodial parent, she was suicidal and trying to run away from home. Yet the situation was not handled by mental health professionals, which Mayor Lovely Warren addressed Sunday.

"This was not an incident where the PIC [Person In Crisis] team would have been called because of the type of initial call to 911," Warren said.

The initial 911 call was for unrelated "family trouble" involving a possible stolen car in the area. 

When police first began pursuing the child, an officer said over his radio: "Their daughter is walking eastbound towards Harris on Avenue B. She's got multi-colored pants and a black hoodie, and her mom is saying she's making suicidal statements."

Police were able to get hold of the child but she resisted, constantly screaming, "I want my dad! I want my dad!" 

"The officer was making an effort to try to get her secured where we could get her some assistance," RPD Executive Deputy Chief Andre Anderson said. "And the officer told her that he wanted to help her, but the young girl was obviously upset."

After about five minutes of struggling with the officer and begging for her dad, the child ends up on the ground, covered in snow. It was 14 degrees on Friday afternoon. 

Her custodial parent was watching this unfold from a couple of yards away. A car drove by, began filming and laughing, according to Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo, and the custodial parent began yelling at the people in the car saying, "Can I help you?" Police believe the custodial parent's presence further incited the child's uncooperative behavior. They urged the parent to return home. 

Moments later, several more police cars arrived on the scene, and at least three officers came to assist the first officer as they put the girl in handcuffs. They tried to get her into a patrol car and warned her about hypothermia. 

Officers succeeded in getting her to sit in a patrol car, but when they asked her to put her feet inside of the car, she resisted and continued screaming for her dad. Mazzeo says one female officer started to develop a rapport with the child. But, when multiple officers failed to get the 9-year-old's feet inside of the car, they lost their patience. 

Body camera footage reveals the female officer saying, "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 sprayed with the chemical irritant CapStun (pepper spray) and taken to Rochester General Hospital via AMR in accordance with Mental Hygiene Law. She was later released. 

On Sunday, Warren and Mazzeo held separate press conferences addressing the incident. 

Warren empathized with the child and her family.

"As a mother, it's not anything you want to see. It's not. We have to understand compassion, empathy," Warren said.

The mayor said she immediately alerted City Council when she learned about the incident. 

Several hours later, Mazzeo also held a press conference.

"There's nothing that anyone can say they did that's inappropriate," he said.

Mazzeo also reiterated that no policies were violated during the encounter, yet when asked if he was proud of the officers' response, he said, "I'm not proud at all."

Mazzeo agreed with Warren that a change is needed in terms of how these kinds of calls are handled, but he said the officers involved did the best they could with the resources available to them. 

"We're not saying that's the best answer or the right answer. Nobody has those answers," Mazzeo 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, but we also shouldn't be to blame," Mazzeo added.

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