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City releases RPD bodycam footage of 9-year-old getting pepper sprayed 

City of Rochester officials have released police body camera footage from the scene of an incident Friday where officers pepper sprayed a handcuffed 9-year-old girl as they tried to put her in the back of a police car.

The incident began when police were called to a house on Avenue B of Friday afternoon for a call about family trouble, possibly involving a stolen car. According to the Rochester Police Department, as officers investigated, one was approached by the parent of a minor who said her child was going to cause harm to herself and others, before she ran away from the residence.

Officers took the child into custody, but then the child became agitated when she saw her parent, according to the police. For her safety, they handcuffed her and put her in the back of a police car. When she wouldn’t follow multiple commands to place her feet in the patrol car, an officer used pepper spray on the girl.

The girl was treated at the hospital and released back to her family.

At a City Hall news conference on Sunday, Mayor Lovely Warren said she is “very concerned about how this young girl was handled by our police department. It is clear from the video that we need to do more in supporting our children and families.”

Warren said that she has a 10-year-old girl and “‘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.”

Warren said she did talk to the girl’s mother and offered other support and resources from the city.

Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan told reporters, “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. I don’t see that as who we are as a department and we’re going to have to do to ensure that these kinds of things don’t happen.”

The Rochester Police Department, like all police departments across the state, is in the process of coming up with a plan for reform that Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants this spring.

In terms of the recently formed Person in Crisis (PIC) team, Warren said that the team was not dispatched on Friday "because of the type of the initial 911 call," and there were other events at that location that called for a police response. She added that city officials are still working on improving how response is made to calls where there may be a mental health need.

Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott and Vice President Willie Lightfoot released a statement over the weekend saying they "are shocked, disappointed, and angered" by the handling of the incident. The Police Accountability Board is also reviewing what happened and on Sunday released a letter it has sent to the RPD chief requesting various types of information about what happened, saying that this appears to have been the second time in a year that RPD officers have handcuffed a child.

On Saturday, City Council member Malik Evans, who is challenging Warren for the mayor's seat,  said in a prepared statement that he was "deeply disturbed by the news that a minor child was handcuffed and sprayed with an irritant by the Rochester Police Department while responding to a mental health call."

In addition to calling for the release of the body camera footage, he said "We must also have a full accounting on how the new process for engaging mental health professionals on RPD calls seem to have broke down in this instance."

Randy Gorbman is the news director at WXXI News, a media partner of CITY. He can be reached at rgorbman@wxxi.org. Jeremy Moule, CITY's news editor, contributed to this report. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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