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Experts weigh in on child pepper sprayed by police

Posted at 6:45 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 18:45:47-05

ROCHESTER, NY. — Several police officers in Rochester, NY are suspended after a child was pepper sprayed while in handcuffs. Southwest Florida experts say no matter how you look at it, officers handled the situation wrong.

After watching video of a 9-year-old getting pepper sprayed while in cuffs, Fort Myers behavioral coach Annette Miller says the girl was crying out for some sort of help.

“I could tell the child was really in a crisis. She was not thinking clearly, but wanting someone to kind of calm her,” she said.

Body camera footage shows at least 8 Rochester officers surrounding the child. They spent 10 minutes trying to handcuff the girl and struggling to put her in a police car. Miller says they could’ve resorted to other methods.

“Made a deal with her. ‘Look, I need you to get in the car. I’m not taking you to jail, but I need you to get in, so that we can keep you safe,’” she said.

Rochester’s Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said the girl was suicidal according to the mom’s call to dispatch. Miller says she’s not blaming the mother, by any means, but she could help in a situation like this, too.

“It behooves the mother, the parent, to talk with the officers and say here’s what I want. So, there’s no misunderstanding when that child leaves the house, what’s going to happen,” said Miller.

Dr. David Thomas, Forensic Studies Professor at Florida Gulf Coast University says once the child was with the officers, they could’ve managed to get her into the car without the mace.

“If she’s yelling and screaming, who cares. That happens all the time,” he said. “That is a hard plastic seat. If you need to drag somebody across, just drag them across. It’s not a big deal.”

He says even though it doesn’t sound good, there may be times when a situation like this calls for pepper spray.

“Kids fight and they can hurt you. So, you have to kind of decide what is necessary,” he said.

But, he says that wasn’t the case here.

“In this case, that wasn’t necessarily meant to be an arrest. It really meant to be what we call in the State of Florida, a Baker Act where you’re going to transport somebody to be evaluated,” he said.

“We have to start re-imagine or rethink how we’re going to address mental health issues in this country,” said Thomas.

Dr. Thomas also recommends local law enforcement agencies have mental health experts accommodate officers to calls like this to de-escalate the situation.