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RPD response to call involving spray of 'irritant' on a child is being reviewed

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Rochester Police say they had to handcuff and use an ‘irritant’ on a handcuffed minor during a call they responded to on Friday afternoon. 

Police responded to a call about family trouble at a house on Avenue B, involving a possibly stolen vehicle. Authorities say that while officers were investigating, an RPD officer 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.

Police say officers took the child (who City Council members describe as a 9-year-old) into custody, but then the child became agitated when she saw her parent.

Police say that caused the girl to pull away and kick at officers; an officer took her down to the ground. Officials say that for the child’s safety and at the request of the parent, the girl was handcuffed and detained in the backseat of a patrol car to wait for an ambulance. Police say the girl refused to listen to officers as they gave her multiple commands to place her feet in the patrol car and that’s when she was sprayed with an irritant. The child was taken to the hospital under the mental hygiene law where police say she got the services and care she needed and was then released to her family.  

RPD says it will continue to review all body-worn camera footage and conduct an internal review to make sure policy has not been violated.

Mayor Lovely Warren released a statement on Saturday saying that, she is “deeply troubled by the macing and handcuffing of a child who is in distress and clearly emotional. That is why we are currently working hard to change how we deal with these types of calls and how our children are dealt with by police officers.”

Warren says she has reviewed the body worn camera footage and immediately spoke to Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan about RPD's response and also notified City Council. 

Warren says that, unfortunately, this was not an incident where the Person in Crisis (PIC) or Forensic Intervention Team (FIT) would have been called because of the type of the initial 911 call.  But the mayor says that city officials will have the Person in Crisis team contact the family to see what support can be provided going forward. Warren says the officer body-worn camera footage is being redacted because it involves a minor, and the city will make it available as soon as possible.

A statement from the city’s Police Accountability Board Executive Director Conor Dwyer Reynolds says that while the PAB cannot conduct disciplinary hearings, they still have a legal duty to bring transparency to all of the RPD’s policies and practices. He says the board will be working to make sure all of the relevant information, including the body-worn camera footage, is released to the public without delay. The statement from the PAB also said that board “will continue to advocate for changes that keep our community’s children safe, including our call for the city to ban police use of chemical weapons against Rochesterians of all ages.”

City Council President Loretta Scott and Vice President Willie Lightfoot issued a statement saying that they have reviewed footage of the incident, and they “are shocked, disappointed, and angered” by the handling of this incident.        

The two council members say the child was under extreme emotional distress and needed care from mental health professionals, or at the very least, assistance from a caring adult. They add that it “is difficult to understand why in the presence of multiple officers, there was a need to use handcuffs and mace to subdue this 9-year old.”

They called on the police chief to take any measures necessary to ensure this type of interaction does not reoccur in the future, and to hold accountable any officers who violated departmental policies.