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Rochester Police Pepper-Sprayed 9-Year-Old Girl, Footage Shows

The police department in Rochester, N.Y., released body-camera footage on Sunday that showed a 9-year-old girl being handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by police officers who had responded to a family disturbance call.

During the incident, which occurred Friday afternoon, officers restrained the girl, pushing her into the snow in order to handcuff her, while she screamed repeatedly for her father, the footage showed.

At one point, an officer said, “You’re acting like a child.” She responded, “I am a child.”

When she refused to sit inside a police car, an officer pepper-sprayed her.

The incident has brought renewed scrutiny to the Rochester Police Department, months after the city was roiled by the disclosure that Daniel Prude, a Black man, suffocated to death last year after Rochester police officers had placed him in a hood.

The handling of Mr. Prude’s death prompted the city’s mayor to abruptly fire the police chief in September, and the department faced accusations of a cover-up after it was revealed that officers had characterized Mr. Prude’s death as the result of a drug overdose.

In Mr. Prude’s case, the body-camera footage was released six months after his death, only after his family had sued the city. Officials at the time of the death sought repeatedly to hide the videos from the public to prevent damaging fallout, according to city documents released last year.

At a news conference on Sunday, police department leaders pledged to be more transparent, releasing the body-camera footage of the girl being pepper-sprayed about 48 hours after the incident. The video was redacted to blur out her face, and her name has not been publicly released.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK,” said the Rochester police chief, Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.

The city’s mayor, Lovely Warren, said the girl reminded her of her own 10-year-old daughter.

“I can tell you that this video, as a mother, is not anything that you want to see,” Ms. Warren said, her voice rising with emotion.

“This is not something that any of us should want to justify, can justify,” she added. “And it is something we have to change.”

She and police officials urged the city’s police officers to respond to incidents with more empathy and compassion, saying that officers needed better training in de-escalation and that the department required an overhaul in its internal culture.

The incident highlighted the longstanding problem that in many police departments, officers are trained to subdue violent suspects and often are poorly equipped to deal with people who are distraught or mentally ill.

On Friday afternoon, officers received a 911 call reporting “family trouble,” and arrived to find the 9-year-old girl dressed in a black hoodie and colorful leggings. She “indicated that she wanted to kill herself, and she wanted to kill her mom,” Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said on Sunday.

The girl initially tried running away, Mr. Anderson said. She repeatedly screamed at the officers, “I want my dad.” As the officers handcuffed her, she pleaded with them to stop, her body covered in snow, the video footage showed.

The officers tried to escort her into the back of a police car so that she could be transported to the hospital, Mr. Anderson said.

Distressed and emotional, the girl said she did not want to enter the car until she saw her dad, the video showed. The officers grew increasingly impatient and stern. She kicked one of the officers, Mr. Anderson said.

Other officers urged her to relax and take a deep breath.

Finally, an officer said, “Just spray her at this point.”

She screamed. After an officer sprayed her in the face with an irritant, the officers placed her into the back seat and shut the door. “Unbelievable,” an officer said.

The scene played out in front of homes in an area that appeared to be a residential neighborhood. The video showed at least six police vehicles that had arrived to respond to the call.

The girl was transported to the hospital and has since been released.

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