Rochester police pepper spray nine-year-old


Image of Rochester nine-year-old detained in the police vehicle.

Emma Guenther, Staff Writer

On Friday, January 29th, police responded to a report of family trouble in Rochester, New York. When officers arrived at the home, the mother of a nine-year-old girl explained to them that her daughter had been indicating that she wanted to kill herself and her mother. The girl was in an agitated state and ran out of the house and down the street.

An officer followed her and attempted to provide assistance, but when the child’s mother arrived, the two continued to argue and the girl grew more agitated. Law enforcement decided to transport the child to a nearby hospital, but she resisted getting inside the police vehicle. One of the officers’ body camera shows footage of the girl crying for her father while being physically restrained by officers, as well as her screaming as her head is pressed against the ground and she is handcuffed. One officer says to the girl, “You’re acting like a child,” to which she responds, “I am a child.”

As the video continues, a female officer is heard telling the girl, “This is your last chance; otherwise, pepper spray’s going in your eyeballs.” Shortly after, another officer says to “just spray her at this point,” which is exactly what happened next.

The officers’ response to the situation highlights law enforcement’s lack of ability to properly deescalate and deal with situations involving an individual experiencing a mental health crisis. According to Donna Lieberman, a New York Civil Liberties Union executive, there was “no conceivable justification” for police to pepper spray a nine-year-old or to restrain her the way that they did. This is only one well-known example of police officers responding extremely poorly to situations involving a person’s mental health. On July 18th of 2016, Arnaldo Rios Soto, a man with autism, ran away from his group home and his caretaker Charles Kinsey found him after officers were called to Soto sitting in the middle of the street. Kinsey laid on his back and explained the situation to the officers, telling them that his client was not a threat and did not have a weapon. Kinsey calmly cooperated and was then shot when the officer attempted to shoot Soto.

There are many more stories of situations similar to these, and it goes without saying that changes need to be made in the training of law enforcement officers so that they may properly handle situations involving mentally ill individuals. The recent headlines of the child pepper sprayed have raised significant awareness, but it is still imperative to spread these stories and advocate change to create a more effective and appropriate system as well as a safer community.