Police Accountability Board calls for release of all video in pepper-spraying of 9-year-old girl
Police body-worn camera footage shows a 9-year-old handcuffed in the back of a police car struggling as pepper spray runs down her face and into her mouth. She asked plaintively for the handcuffs to be removed. But the public hasn't seen that yet.
That's why the Rochester Police Accountability Board, the independent group tasked with investigating claims of police misconduct, has called for the city of Rochester to immediately release all bodycam video of the Harris Street incident where the despondent and distressed girl was struggling as police officers took her into custody while waiting for an ambulance. Police said the girl was taken into custody under the state's mental hygiene law.
The incident has garnered international attention as the city, police department, and community are reeling after the incident has come into public view. In a letter to Interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan the board asked for access to all video footage, incident reports, and sought answers to a number of policy-related questions after the department said the officers' actions were "required" in its initial press release Saturday morning.
Thus far, the department has only provided unedited video footage of the incident and hasn't given answers to the board, which is provided the power under the City Charter to independently investigate, subpoena, and provide recommendations.
The board said the unreleased footage presents a fuller picture and raises important questions about how police interact with community, especially when it is related to calls involving mental health distress.
"The unreleased footage shows: how officers dealt with the child’s cries of pain and calls for help as she sat in the back of the police car; how officers dealt with a bystander who may have filmed the incident; and how officers dealt with the mother of the child after the incident," the board said in a statement.
It continued, "According to media reports, the city of Rochester plans to publicly release this footage at some point in the future. We strongly encourage the city to use all necessary resources to ensure the footage is redacted and released as quickly as possible."
"There is an urgent need to review, change and introduce police policies and procedures to keep children safe," the PAB said, citing the handcuffing of a 10-year-old girl during a traffic stop on Route 104 in May 2020.
The PAB — which doesn't have the power to discipline police officers due to a pending lawsuit brought by the police union — submitted recommendations as part of Mayor Lovely Warren's working group on the future of policing. Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order last year requiring all municipalities to submit policing reform plans or risk losing state funding. The PAB issued a slate of progressive reforms, many of which were centered around the call for alternative responses to calls like this Harris Street incident. The PAB called for $10 million to fund these non-law enforcement response plans.
The unified working group plan is slated to be unveiled Thursday evening, Warren said.
The city launched its own Person In Crisis team last month to deal with calls of this nature. But this specific incident wasn't eligible for a PIC response, because of the way the initial call came into police and also because the team is currently limited in how it can respond during its pilot trial. The PIC pilot program is slated to run through June.
Cuomo said the city "needs to reckon with a real police accountability problem, and this alarming incident demands a full investigation that sends a message this behavior won’t be tolerated.”
Therefore, the PAB said a "cooperative and transparent relationship with RPD is vital, not only to the work of the PAB, but for healing the public trust between the citizens and their police force."