(Reuters) - The mayor of Rochester, New York, ordered the immediate suspension on Monday of city police officers involved in the pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old girl while she was handcuffed, an incident caught on police body-camera video.
Mayor Lovely Warren said in a message posted on Twitter that the suspensions, announced after she met with the city’s police chief, would continue “at a minimum” until a police internal investigation of Friday’s arrest is completed.
“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged, all of our community,” the mayor said. “Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action.”
Neither the mayor nor the police department made it clear exactly how many officers would be suspended.
She added that she would “lead the charge” in seeking changes to state law to allow municipal governments to take swifter action to discipline officers in such cases.
Police have said the officers involved were responding to a family disturbance call on Friday, and video footage taken during the incident showed police wrestling the girl to the ground in the snow.
“You’re acting like a child,” an officer tells her.
“I am a child,” the girl, who appears to be Black, says as she screams, crying for her father.
The investigation comes months after Rochester was rocked by protests over the death of a Black man who was suffering a mental health crisis and was suffocated when police pulled a hood over his head last March.
In Friday’s incident, Rochester Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson told reporters that the girl “indicated she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom.”
After the girl tried to run away, officers handcuffed her and attempted to take her to a hospital in a patrol car, Anderson said.
She repeatedly screamed “I want my dad!” as the officers tried to pull her into the vehicle, the video showed.
“This is your last chance. Otherwise pepper spray is going into your eyeballs,” an officer tells her, adding, “I will call your dad.”
Eventually, another officer says, “Just spray her at this point.”
The girl screams and is heard pleading, “Wipe my eyes, please!”
“Unbelievable,” an officer sighs.
The girl’s identity was not released, and the video was blurred to provide anonymity. A representative for the child’s family could not be immediately identified.
After Prude’s death, Mayor Warren fired the police chief, La’Ron Singletary, and named Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan as the first woman to run the department.
Video footage, released by Prude’s family, showed officers using a mesh hood and pinning him to the pavement, in a scene reminiscent of George Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis police custody that sparked worldwide anti-racism protests.
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Aurora Ellis
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