Rochester police officers were caught on camera pepper-spraying a woman and 3-year-old child, members of the city’s police accountability board said during a virtual press conference on Friday.
The footage reviewed by the board showed officers stopping the woman and child on Feb. 22 after someone at a drug store called police and accused the woman of stealing something, board members said. The Rochester Police Department posted some footage of the incident to its YouTube account as an unlisted video.
In that footage, an officer can be seen driving up to a woman who is walking along the side of the road carrying a young child in her arms.
The officer stops next to her, gets out of the car and says “Did you steal from that store? Oh come on they said you stole what’d you take? Tell me the truth!” She says she didn’t steal anything and the officer says, “I don’t have time for BS so you better be quick with me.”
She puts the child down and shows the officer everything in her purse.
Holding the contents of her purse in front of him, she says, “Nothing, right?”
The officer says, “Well we’ve got to talk with them and see, so I need you to hop in the back of my car with your kid really quick and we’re going to go check.”
“No, see—sir, sir—” the woman says.
“If you didn’t steal you’re out of here, but you have to stay with me,” the officer says.
“What?” the woman says as a second police car pulls up. She runs to a nearby store and tries to enter, saying she didn’t do anything.
The officer then grabs the woman from behind, takes the child from her arms and puts the child on the ground.
The camera is shaking and out of focus and it is difficult to see what happens next, but the officer appears to force her onto the ground with her arms behind her back. He yells “Relax! Turn around so I can cuff you! … I have to cuff you!” The woman continues to yell “I did not do anything!”
“It should have stopped” when the woman showed the police she did not have anything in her purse, Board Member Arlene Brown said. “It was the officers’ actions from then on that escalated the situation, clearly putting the mother and child in stress.”
Board Member Conor Reynolds said security camera footage from the store appears to show the woman holding the child by the hand when she was pepper-sprayed.
The woman, who has not been named, was “charged with trespassing and issued an appearance ticket as the store confirmed she knocked a number of items off the shelf and refused repeated requests to leave,” Reynolds said, quoting a statement from Rochester’s chief of police.
Two officers who were involved in the recent pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old were also involved in this incident, Board Chair Shani Wilson said during the conference.
Board members did not specify what role the officers involved in the two incidents played in each. Wilson did say that one of the officers who was present at both incidents intimidated a bystander.
“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,” said Board Member Reverend Matthew Nickoloff.
The incident comes in the wake of other instances of excessive force from the city’s police department: over the past year, officers have also handcuffed a 10-year-old child during a traffic stop, and pushed Daniel Prude’s head into the pavement until he stopped breathing then tried to cover it up.
The Rochester Police Department and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren did not immediately respond when contacted about the incident.
The Police Accountability Board was established by ballot measure in 2019 as an independent police oversight body. It is made up of nine volunteer residents and one staffer. During the press conference, Board Chair Wilson criticized the lack of power the board has been given by the city, noting that it hinders the boards ability to carry out its voter-approved mandate.
“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,” City Councilmember Mary Lupien told The Appeal in a text message. “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.”
“I’m calling for the complete dissolution of the Rochester Police Department and reformation with a mission to provide peacekeepers to serve our community,” she said.
Ravi Mangla contributed reporting.