Mother of pepper sprayed 9-year-old girl speaks out

'Under any circumstances it's not OK to pepper spray a 9-year-old that's already detained'

Louise Hall
Thursday 04 February 2021 15:50
Rochester police pepper spray 9-year-old in body camera footage

The mother of a 9-year-old girl who was pepper-sprayed by police officers in New York has spoken out in condemnation of the incident, saying: “You don’t treat anyone like that.”

Mother Elba Pope told WXXI News that her daughter is doing better following the traumatic confrontation, but that she’s still distraught and feels responsible for the incident.

“She feels like she got me in trouble, she’s so apologetic and so emotional and I explained to her every step of the way, you’re not in trouble, you’re good,” Ms Pope told the outlet.

Speaking to NBC News she said: “I trusted the Rochester Police Department to do what they needed to do to help my daughter, not to abuse her or hurt her at all.”

Police in Rochester were seen restraining and spraying her 9-year-old daughter with chemical “irritant”, in two body-camera videos released on Sunday.

Nine officers responded to the incident after they said they were called to a report of “family trouble” on Friday, the Associated Press reported.

Ms Pope has filed a notice of claim against the city for negligence, violations of constitutional rights, assault, battery, excessive force, and infliction of emotional distress, Spectrum News reported.

“Regardless of what the situation may have been, that’s still my firstborn, my baby, my child. You don’t treat anyone like that,” she told NBC News.

One police officer was suspended and two were placed on administrative leave in Rochester two days following the release of the bodycam footage, the broadcaster reported.

An internal investigation is said to be ongoing and a spokesman did not respond to a request for additional details when contacted by the outlet.

Ms Pobe told the outlet that she initially called the police following an argument with her husband outside their house, which their daughter overheard and became distressed, and the situation escalated.

In bodycam footage of the incident, the girl is visibly distressed as officers restrain and scold her as she was screaming for her father.

At one point, an officer is heard telling her to “stop acting like a child,” to which she cried, “I am a child”.

Mayor Lovely Warren has condemned the incident, and said in a statement on Monday: “What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged, all of our community.” 

Attorney General Letitia James also said on Monday: “What happened in Rochester on Friday is deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable.”

She added: "Such use of force and pepper spray should never be deployed against a child, period. My office is looking into what transpired and how a child was ever subjected to such danger."

At a news conference on Sunday, Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan described the irritant used on the child as pepper-spray and declined to defend the officers' actions.

She added: “I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a 9-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK. It’s not.”

Ms Pobe told NBC News that she is demanding authorities fire the three police officers involved in the incident, and said that she wants “to see a change in the system.”

"A change in how they respond to mental health, a change in how you treat minors, a kid, a 9-year-old,” she told WXXI News.

"Under any circumstances it’s not OK to pepper spray a 9-year-old that’s already detained inside of the car."

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