Protests broke out Monday in Rochester, New York, after police released the video of an incident where officers pepper-sprayed a 9-year-old girl who had been handcuffed after they responded to a family distress call.
The incident unfolded Friday when police answered a call about a family disturbance and a possible stolen car.
Police say the girl was in distress, and was expressing suicidal thoughts as well as threats of violence against her mother. When they tried to restrain her, she resisted and thrashed around. Eventually, they used pepper spray to help subdue her and get her into their patrol car.
Rochester Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said that she was transported to Rochester General Hospital and later released.
Owing to a recent change in police policies, footage of the incident from police body cameras were released to the public within 48 hours. The video shows the girl asking for her father while the police command her to follow their orders.
“You’re acting like a child,” said one officer during the video.
“I am a child!” the girl responded.
On Sunday, interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan condemned the actions taken by the officers during a media briefing.
“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,” Herriott-Sullivan said. “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.”
Others saw the incident in a much different light.
Rochester police union President Mike Mazzeo defended the officers involved in statements made to the media. He argued that the incident resulted in no injury to the girl, but could have been far worse.
“Had they had to go and push further, and use more force, there’s a good chance she could have been hurt worse. It’s very very difficult to get someone in the back of a police car like that,” Mazzeo explained.
“I’m not saying there are not better ways to do things. But let’s be realistic about what we’re facing,” he added. “It’s not TV, it’s not Hollywood.”
On Monday afternoon WROC reported that the officers involved had been suspended. In response to the incident, several state legislators authored a bill that would prohibit the use of chemical agents by police on anyone under the age of 18.
Rochester police also indicated that more police footage would be released.