Cops Pepper-Sprayed a 9-Year-Old Girl and Told Her She Was ‘Acting Like a Child’

The girl repeatedly screamed out for her father during the incident in Rochester, New York.
​Still from bodycam footage
Still from bodycam footage (Rochester Police Department/YouTube)

Cops handcuffed a 9-year-old girl, forced her into a patrol car as she screamed for her father, and pepper-sprayed her.

The incident was captured on bodycam footage released Sunday in Rochester, New York. Throughout the video, the girl yells, “I want my dad!”  

It happened around 3:30 p.m. on January 29, after police responded to a report of “family trouble,” the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported.


Video from the police bodycam begins with an officer chasing the girl as she runs down the street, away from her home. Eventually he catches up with her, detains her, and asks, “What is going on? How can I help?”

Eventually, her mother appears in the video, and the mother and daughter begin arguing. Two officers restrain the girl as she screams for her father. More police cars keep showing up, with a total of nine officers and Rochester police supervisors eventually responding, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. 

A second bodycam video shows the cops handcuffing the girl on the ground, in the snow, as she struggles and continues to call out for her dad, begging the cops to stop and telling them that they’re hurting her. At one point, an officer tells her that she’s “acting like a child,” to which the 9-year-old girl responds, “I am a child.” 

After police put her in the back of a car, the girl continues to struggle in the backseat and keeps her legs out to prevent them from closing the door. That’s when an officer tells her: “This is your last chance or else pepper spray is going in your eyeballs.” Moments later, the girl says: “You said you were going to pepper-spray me. No, please no, stop.”

“Just spray her at this point,” the cop wearing the body camera tells the cop trying to force the door shut. 


The officer wearing the camera then pepper-sprays the girl, and tells the other officer, “I got her.” They then shut the door.

The girl was transported to the hospital and later released to her family after receiving treatment, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. 

At a Sunday press conference, Rochester officials criticized the way police dealt with the child in crisis. 

“I’m very concerned about how this young girl was handled by our police department,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. She added that she has  directed interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan “to conduct a complete and thorough and transparent investigation into this incident,” and said she welcomes a review by the Rochester Police Accountability Board. 

Free the People Rochester, a local activist group that advocates for defunding the police, called for the firing of police involved in the incident. 

“The RPD's [Rochester Police Department] usage of pepper spray on a young child who was already handcuffed and experiencing a mental health crisis is an extremely violent, inhuman act," the group said in a statement. "The officers involved are a danger to our community and must be fired and charged immediately."

Mike Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Locust Club, the local police union, defended the cops’ conduct. He said the officer who pepper-sprayed the girl “made a decision there that he thought was the best action to take.”

“It resulted in no injury to her,” Mazzeo said. “If they had to go and push further and use more force, there's a good chance she could have been hurt worse."

But Herriott-Sullivan, who was appointed as interim chief after fallout last year from the police killing of 41-year-old Daniel Prude, who was having a mental health crisis, criticized the officers’ actions and said the department needs to do better. 

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK,” Herriott-Sullivan said on Sunday. “I don’t see that as who we are as a department, and we’re going to do the work we have to do to ensure that these kinds of things don’t happen.”