A body camera video showing a Rochester police officer pepper spraying a mother with a child late last month is “disturbing,” the city’s mayor said in a statement.
A statement from the Rochester Police Department said that on Feb. 22, officers responded to a call of an alleged female shoplifter “who was arguing with store employees and refusing to leave.”
Body camera video shows an officer talking to a woman with her child while she shows the contents of her purse, pulling out a loose diaper and saying she didn’t take anything from the drug store. When the officer tells her he is going to check with store employees, but she has to stay with him, she takes off running with her child. In the video, police blurred the face of the child.
An officer chases her down, puts her on the ground and attempts to handcuff her as she cries, “I did not steal anything,” and the child wails in the background.
The woman was pepper sprayed during the arrest, according to a statement from Rochester police.
The child was not pepper sprayed or injured, police said. The woman was charged with trespassing.
Interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said Friday, “You’ll see where the mother and child are actually grasping each other.”
The chief indicated it’s her initial response that the use of force was in-policy.
“Some things to me aren’t as simple as to whether a policy was followed. Our indicators are that it was,” she said.
“If the person’s physically resisting, generally you’re safe with pepper spray usages,” she said. “You only want to go to the extent that’s necessary. You don’t want to go beyond that.”
The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave while an internal investigation is underway, according to police.
A subsequent body camera video shows an officer later addressing the woman as “dear,” asking her if she wants her eyes rinsed out, and telling her that she might be on the news later because at least one bystander was filming.
Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement that the body camera videos of the incident “are certainly disturbing.”
“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,” she said.
Herriott-Sullivan “is working to make sweeping, but necessary, policy and procedure changes along with mandatory training for officers regarding racism and implicit bias,” Warren said. “Change will not come until we have the ability to fully hold our officers accountable when they violate the public’s trust.”
The incident comes about a month after one Rochester police officer was suspended and two were placed on administrative leave after a video was released showing authorities pepper spraying a 9-year-old girl while responding to a report of “family trouble,” officials said.
Body camera video showed police handcuffing the girl while she repeatedly screamed for her father and refused to get in the vehicle. “You’re acting like a child,” one of the officers told her at one point.
“I am a child,” she can be heard responding.
In this video, officers can be heard saying that they would pepper spray her if she continued to resist. And then one does.
In a statement released Friday, the City of Rochester Police Accountability Board said that two officers on the scene of the most recent arrest were also on the scene in the earlier pepper-spraying incident of the child. It isn’t clear what role they played in either incident.
“The Police Accountability Board is disturbed by what it has seen,” the board’s statement said, adding that there were “troubling parallels between the two incidents.
“Both incidents involved Black mothers. Both involved Black children. Both involved Black people obviously in crisis. Both involved officers using pepper spray on or around a Black child,” the Police Accountability Board’s statement said.
The statement said the body cam videos police released from the Feb. 22 incident show an officer tell a bystander to “Shut the hell up, and get out of here.”
In the Feb. 22 incident, an officer holding the child also tells another to use a car to block the child from witnesses, saying it doesn’t look good that he has to restrain a 3-year-old.
One officer does say a call was made to the Family and Crisis Intervention Team, but another answers that “they said they’re not even logged in yet,” according to the Police Accountability Board.
Both incidents “appear to have not involved the Person in Crisis Team, the Family and Crisis Intervention Team, or mental health professionals. Both involved police officers doing nothing to effectively de-escalate the situation,” the statement said. “Both involved apparent intimidation of bystanders filming the incident. Without the courage of those bystanders, who were willing to stand up and hold the police accountable, both incidents may never have been brought to light.”
The confrontations come less than a year after Daniel Prude, 41, died while being restrained by Rochester police with a “spit hood” over his head.
Police found Prude wandering the street naked after allegedly smashing a storefront window, and he could be seen on body camera footage spitting in the direction of officers and heard saying he was infected with coronavirus. Officers said that led them to employ the hood.
The police department’s chief and entire command staff resigned after Prude’s death, and the city enacted law enforcement reforms, including moving crisis intervention from the purview of police.
The city launched a “person in crisis” response team,but it didn’t respond to the incident with the 9-year-old because the initial 911 call didn’t warrant it, Warren has said.
Herriott-Sullivan said in the Friday press conference that since this was a call about a crime, it was treated as such.
“In this case, keep in mind, there were criminal charges pressed by the victims, which are Rite-Aid,” Herriott-Sullivan said. “FACIT’s [Family And Crisis Intervention Team] not going to be helpful when she’s being processed. It’s not a time for that. The time is follow-up later.”