Two police officers in Rochester, New York have been placed on administrative leave and another has been suspended for their involvement in the handcuffing and pepper-spraying of a nine-year-old girl.
According to Rochester Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson, the officers were responding to a report of “family troubles” at 3:20 PM on Jan. 29. The officers were informed that the girl had “indicated that she wanted to kill herself and [her mother].”
Upon police arrival, the girl attempted to run away and was chased down by one officer. Following this, the child’s mother arrived and the two began to argue. At this point, Anderson said the officers decided to take the girl, with the intention of bringing her to a nearby hospital.
Body camera footage released by the police department shows the officers restraining the nine-year-old, attempting to get her into a police vehicle, as she cries and calls for her father. She can be heard screaming as the officers put her in handcuffs.
One officer in the video can be heard saying, “You’re acting like a child,” to which the young girl responded, “I am a child!”
At a later point in the footage another officer can be heard telling the girl, “This is your last chance, otherwise pepper spray’s going in your eyeballs.” Approximately a minute later, another officer said, “Just spray her at this point.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has directed Anderson to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident, calling the events “simply horrible.” “Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action,” Warren said.
On Mon. Feb 1, New York Attorney General Letitia James tweeted that her office would also be looking into the incident, calling the situation “deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo weighed in as well, stating that within the state of New York and the nation, the relationship between the police system and the community is “clearly not working.”
“Rochester needs to reckon with a real police accountability problem, and this alarming incident demands a full investigation that sends a message that this behavior won’t be tolerated,” Cuomo said.
Elba Pope, the mother of the nine-year-old involved in the incident is now speaking out. In an interview with The Washington Post, Pope announced her plan to sue the city over the events on Jan. 29.
On Tue. Feb. 2, Pope and her attorneys filed a formal notice, stating their intention of suing the city of Rochester for “emotional distress, assault, battery, excessive force, false assert and false imprisonment,” as well as potential violations of “constitutional rights.”
Pope also stated that she had advised the officers involved to call a mental health specialist. According to Pope, her daughter had experienced a similar breakdown just months before and had been denied help that time, as well.
This incident is not the only example of Rochester mishandling situations within communities of color where mental health issues were involved. Daniel Prude died at the hands of Rochester
police in September after being placed under a spit hood while experiencing a mental health episode.
Protests broke out in Rochester on Mon. Feb. 1, with people gathering outside of the police headquarters. Protesters could be heard chanting, “Look what you did, you just maced a little kid.”
Alma student Claire Wittlieff (’24) is frustrated by the lack of attention surrounding the events. “I did not even see any coverage on this incident until I was asked about my thoughts on it,” Wittlieff said. “That in itself speaks volumes.”
Wittlieff feels that suspending the officers involved in the incident is not enough. “I believe that further steps should be taken to ensure that something like this never happens again,” Wittlieff said.