The Slatest

Video Shows Rochester Police Tackling, Pepper-Spraying Black Woman in Front of Toddler

Police tape lines a crime scene after a shooting at a backyard party on September 19, 2020, Rochester, New York.
Police tape lines a crime scene after a shooting at a backyard party on September 19, 2020, Rochester, New York. Joshua Rashaad McFadden/Getty Images

Police in Rochester, New York are once again under scrutiny about the use of pepper spray after video released Friday shows police spraying the chemical irritant into the face of a Black woman who was holding the hand of her three-year-old child. “It feels like our officers are out of control,” Mary Lupien, a City Council member, told the New York Times.

The incident took place Feb. 22 and came less than a month after uproar over police pepper-spraying a handcuffed nine-year-old. Police body-camera videos released Friday shows how an officer confronted a woman who was carrying her child following a report of a shoplifter at a nearby Rite Aid. “Did you steal from that store?” an officer says to the woman. “Oh come on, they said you stole. What’d you take? Tell me the truth!”

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The woman denies she stole anything and opened her purse to show the officer. The officer tells the woman she needs to stay until the store employees can be contacted. But the woman starts running away with her toddler. The officer catches her and proceeds to tackle her to the ground to handcuff her all while her child can be heard screaming and crying. “I did not steal anything,” the woman repeated. A second officer arrives and takes the toddler and when the woman tries to grab on to her child again, an officer pepper-sprays the woman in the face before proceeding to tackle her again and putting her in handcuffs. Security camera footage shows how the child was at one point suspended in the air between her mother and the officer before her mother lets go. “Stop. Oh my God, what is wrong with her?” the officer who grabbed the child can be heard saying of the mother.

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Although the toddler was not sprayed, officials warned that could have happened and raised questions about how officers handled the small child. “These disturbing incidents prove that the Rochester Police Department needs to fundamentally change its organizational culture,” the city’s Police Accountability Board said in a statement. “These incidents also affirm our community’s call to fundamentally reimagine public safety.” These latest pepper-spray incidents come after the Rochester Police Department was already facing outrage and scrutiny over the death last year of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after police pinned him down and placed a “spit hood” over his head.

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