The Rochester Police Department in New York released body camera footage Sunday showing officers handcuffing and pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl while responding to a call for "family trouble."
The two disturbing videos show the distressed child screaming for her father while officers tried to restrain her and get her to sit inside a police vehicle on Friday afternoon.
"You're acting like a child," one male officer is heard telling her in the video.
"I am a child," she screams.
"I'm gonna pepper-spray you, and I don’t want to," a woman officer tells the girl while trying to get her to put her feet inside the police car.
"This is your last chance. Otherwise pepper spray is going in your eyeballs," the officer says.
The girl, whose face was blurred out in the videos, begs the officers not to spray her. After she is pepper-sprayed, she cries, "It went in my eyes, it went in my eyes."
Officials did not identify the child, her family, or any of the officers involved in the incident.
"I'm not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK," Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said at a press conference Sunday. "It's not. I don’t see that is who we are as a department."
On Monday, Mayor Lovely Warren ordered the police chief to suspend the officers involved. She said she would call on state legislators to enact changes to laws to allow cities "to more quickly issue discipline in cases like this one."
“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged, all of our community,” Warren said in a statement. “Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action."
The incident brought renewed scrutiny to a police department whose top officials resigned last September following protests over the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died of asphyxiation after Rochester officers put a hood over his head and pinned him to the ground.
Warren said Friday's incident was "not something any of us should want to justify."
She added that the young girl reminded her of her own daughter.
"I have a 10-year-old daughter. So she's a child. She's a baby," Warren said. "And I can tell you that this video, as a mother, is not anything that you want to see. I saw my baby's face in her face."
Warren said she has asked for the police chief to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident, adding that she welcomed a review from the police accountability board.
Officers responding to a report of "family trouble" around 3:21 p.m. local time on Friday were made aware that the 9-year-old girl was "upset" and "suicidal" and had indicated that she "wanted to kill herself and that she wanted to kill her mom," Rochester Executive Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said Sunday.
The body camera video shows one male officer following the girl, who was wearing a hoodie with colorful leggings and carrying a backpack, as she tried to run away.
While the officer attempts to calm the girl down, she gets into a heated argument with her mother over a family dispute. The officer then asks the mother to leave.
Anderson said the officer decided to "remove the child from the situation and get her into a car where we could get her assistance."
But the young girl refused, he said, and "thrashed around," at one point kicking an officer in the chest and knocking off a body-worn camera.
The video shows officers struggling to restrain the child while she repeatedly cries out, "I want my dad."
The officers then handcuff the child while she is on the snow-covered ground and attempt to get her to sit inside the police vehicle.
"I just want to see my dad, please," the child begs, asking for a "girl officer."
In the second body camera video, the woman officer is seen trying to calm the child down and get her to put her legs inside the car, promising her that she will try to find her father.
After unsuccessful attempts, the officer warns the sobbing girl that she will pepper-spray her if she doesn't comply.
One male officer says, "Just spray her. Just spray her at this point."
The woman officer is seen shaking a can; a can is also seen in the other officer's hand. It is unclear who pepper-sprayed the child.
"It didn't appear as if she was resisting the officers. She was trying not to be restrained to go to the hospital," Anderson said. "As the officers made numerous attempts to try to get her in the car, an officer sprayed the young child with OC spray to get her in the car."
She was then transported to Rochester General Hospital and later released.
Anderson said he was not trying to "make excuses for what transpired" and that changes will come about by "actually talking to the officers involved and getting them to take a look at de-escalation."
"Our overall goal is to change the culture," he said.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.