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In N.Y., Police Body Cam Video Shows Child Handcuffed, Sprayed With Chemical Irritant


The mayor of Rochester, N.Y., has ordered the suspension of the police officers involved in an incident last week where police handcuffed and pepper sprayed a 9-year-old girl. Officials released body cam footage of the encounter yesterday. And this comes as the city's still grappling with the fallout from another incident last year where a Black man suffering a mental health crisis died after he was restrained by police. Randy Gorbman of member station WXXI in Rochester joins us now.


RANDY GORBMAN, BYLINE: Well, welcome. Thanks for having me today.

CHANG: So I want to begin with this latest incident. What exactly happened?

GORBMAN: Well, it all began, Ailsa, last Friday. The police got a call about family trouble, possibly involving a stolen car. When the officers got there, they said they were told about a child who was suicidal and also threatening to kill her mother. Police say the 9-year-old became agitated, and she kept yelling that she wanted her father. As we can see on the body cam video they released yesterday, the officers are trying to get the girl into their patrol car to get control of the situation and to wait for an ambulance.

As they struggle to get her into the car, we see a female officer talking to the girl, saying, this is your last chance. Otherwise, pepper spray is going in your eyeballs. Another officer, a male officer also at the car, can be heard saying, just spray her at this point. Then the female officer can be seen shaking a can, which we assume is the pepper spray, and apparently uses it while the child continues to scream. Eventually, the girl was taken to the hospital as a mental hygiene case. She was treated and released to the custody of her family.

CHANG: Wow. And how have people in Rochester been responding to all of this?

GORBMAN: As you might imagine, the reaction has been angry and swift. At a City Hall news conference on Sunday, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren noted that she has a 10-year-old daughter and could relate to how disturbing it is to watch this body cam video.


LOVELY WARREN: This video, as a mother, is not anything that you want to see. It's not. We have to understand compassion, empathy when you have a child that is suffering in this way and calling out for her dad. I saw my baby's face in her face.

GORBMAN: And we just got word that the mayor is suspending the officers who were involved until the results of an internal investigation are concluded. The police chief, Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, who has only been chief for a short time after a big shake-up in the department's top ranks last fall, said the department will work to make sure these types of situations don't happen again.

CHANG: Yeah, that shake-up you just mentioned, that came as a response to the death of Daniel Prude last March, right? I mean, can you just remind us what happened to Daniel Prude and where the investigation stands now.

GORBMAN: Sure. This made national headlines, Ailsa. He's the man who was having a mental health crisis. This was in March of last year. He was found running naked down a city street. Rochester police took him into custody and pinned him to the pavement. He suffocated and died a week later in the hospital.

The body cam video from that incident, though, was not released until several months later. And there's been an ongoing investigation from the New York state attorney general. In fact, that AG, Tish James, tweeted today that what happened in Rochester last Friday is deeply disturbing. And she said that kind of force and pepper spray should never be deployed against a child.

CHANG: And how are officials explaining how something like this could have happened so soon after a year of shake-ups and reform efforts?

GORBMAN: Well, in fact, the city recently launched a person in crisis team. That's a group of social workers who would be available to respond to these kinds of situations. But the mayor said the team was not called on Friday because there were other events going on at the location which had them bring the traditional police response. The reform effort at RPD is ongoing.

CHANG: Right.

GORBMAN: It's actually part of a statewide push by the governor, who has mandated every municipality in the state...


GORBMAN: ...Have a reform plan in place by April 1.

CHANG: That is Randy Gorbman of member station WXXI in Rochester.

Thank you.

GORBMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.