Originally published at Common Dreams
The actions of Rochester, New York police officers—including two who were reportedly involved in the recent pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old girl—are under scrutiny following body camera footage released Friday showing them violently arresting a mother holding her daughter, age 3, while attempting to question her over shoplifting allegations of which she was cleared.
Footage of the February 22 encounter reviewed and released by the Rochester Police Accountability Board, an independent city watchdog agency, shows officers stopping the woman—whose name has not been released—and asking her what she stole from a nearby Rite Aid drugstore. The woman shows officers the contents of her purse, but when they don’t let her go she runs away carrying her child and is pepper-sprayed and knocked to the ground by officers as they catch and arrest her. Additional footage shows the distraught toddler crying for her mother.
The arresting officer has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported. The woman was not charged with shoplifting. She was cited for trespassing.
The Appeal reported Rochester Police Accountability Board member Arlene Brown told journalists at a Friday online press conference that “it should have stopped” once the woman showed she didn’t steal anything.
“It was the officers’ actions from then on that escalated the situation, clearly putting the mother and child in stress,” said Brown.
Board chair Shani Wilson said at the press conference that two of the officers who took part in the encounter were also involved in the January pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old Black girl.
Board member Rev. Matthew Nickoloff added that “we would hope that… the supervisors of these officers would have recognized after the first incident that perhaps their behavior shows they have some more training or some more work to do before being in a situation like this again in a few weeks.”
Rochester City Council member Mary Lupien told The Appeal that “the only offense I saw is that the young woman was tackled to the ground by officers and pepper-sprayed while desperately trying to keep hold of her daughter.”
Lupien noted separately that despite police claims that the child was not sprayed, “pepper spray goes everywhere immediately, so this child was exposed to the gas.”
“The trauma inflicted on this little girl and her mother will be a permanent scar and will ripple out into the community for years to come,” she told The Appeal. “I’m calling for the complete dissolution of the Rochester Police Department and reformation with a mission to provide peacekeepers to serve our community.”
Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriot-Sullivan said Friday that the arresting officer appeared to follow protocol, but “some things to me aren’t as simple as whether a policy was followed or not.”
“Just because we can do certain things, doesn’t mean we should,” she said. “Can we get to the same place by utilizing a different strategy?”
The latest incident in New York’s third-largest city follows police pepper-spraying the 9-year-old, handcuffing a 10-year-old girl during a traffic stop last May, and killing unarmed Black man Daniel Prude last March before attempting to conceal evidence in the case.