The police department in Rochester, New York, has released a heartwrenching bodycam video of an officer pepper spraying a mother with her 3-year-daughter, who can be heard screaming frantically and calling for “Mommy.”
The Black woman had been accused by a store owner of shoplifting before the confrontation last month. When stopped by a police officer outside the store, the woman denied the accusations and opened her bag. An officer can be heard telling her: “Oh, come on, they said you stole, tell me what you took,” adding: “I don’t have time for B.S. You better be quick with me.”
When she then ran from him with her child in her arms, he chased her, ordered her to put down the child, tackled her and pepper sprayed her. At one point, another officer arrives to pull away the woman’s child as she’s clutching the toddler’s arm. The first officer then tackles the mother. (The child’s face is blurred out in the screenshot below.)
Police said the toddler was not sprayed or physically injured, though clearly she was extremely emotionally distraught. Another officer, trying to calm the desperate toddler, can be heard asking a colleague to block the scene from the public with his car because it “doesn’t look good that I have to restrain, like, a 3-year-old.”
The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. The unidentified woman was charged with trespassing and given a desk appearance ticket.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren called the video “disturbing.”
When “incidents like this occur, I am relieved that I ensured body-worn cameras” for police “so we can see what occurs on our streets and hold officers accountable,” she added.
It’s the same police department where one officer was suspended and two were placed on leave last month after police pepper-sprayed and handcuffed a 9-year-old Black girl at her home. Her parents had called for help when their child experienced what her mother described to police as a mental health breakdown.
Interim Department Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said at a news conference Friday held to respond to mounting local outrage over the latest confrontation that officials believed police on the scene were within department guidelines.
But Herriott-Sullivan, who called the confrontation “unsettling,” said: “Just because we can do certain things, should we? Can we get to the same place by utilizing a different strategy?”
She added: “We do have policies on the use of things such as pepper spray .... generally ... if a person is physically resisting then you’re safe on pepper spray usage. But obviously you don’t want to take it too far.”
Herriot-Sullivan called for officers to “come to a resolution of certain situations with the least amount of confrontation involved.”
The video also captured an officer arguing aggressively with a bystander who was filming the scene with his cellphone. “I know you got a job to do,” the bystander says before the officer cuts him off. One officer tells the bystander to “shut the hell up, and get out of here.”
Rochester’s Police Accountability Board said in a statement it was “disturbed” by the latest footage, and noted “troubling parallels” with the confrontation with the 9-year-old girl. Two of the officers were on both scenes, according to the board, which did not reveal what role they played.
“Both incidents involved Black mothers. Both involved Black children. Both involved Black people obviously in crisis. Both involved officers using pepper spray on or around a Black child,” the statement noted.
Neither family crisis teams nor mental health professionals were called to either scene, the board noted.
And “both involved apparent intimidation of bystanders filming the incident,” the statement added. “Without the courage of those bystanders, who were willing to stand up and hold the police accountable, both incidents may never have been brought to light.”
The department is still dealing with the consequences stemming from the death a year ago of Black Rochester resident Daniel Prude. Officers put a “spit hood” over his head to subdue him after he was found wandering the streets naked. His death was ruled a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
The video of the latest confrontation released by police appears to be a compilation of footage from different body cams. The full video can be seen up top. It begins with the confrontation.
The police press conference on the incident can be seen here: