The body camera footage shows an officer talking to a woman who had been accused of shoplifting. The woman—who was holding a child—insisted that she didn’t steal anything, showing only a loose diaper in her purse. Still, the officer informs her that he is going to check with store employees to confirm her story and that she has to stay with him until it’s finished. This prompted her to try to flee the scene with her child.
The officer then chased her down, pushed her to the ground, and attempted to place her in handcuffs. As this is happening, the woman yelled, “I did not steal anything” as the baby is crying. The struggle continues, moving the officer to pepper spray the alleged suspect. Interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan stood by this decision, explaining on Friday that the use of force was justified.
“Some things to me aren’t as simple as to whether a policy was followed. Our indicators are that it was,” she said. “If the person’s physically resisting, generally you’re safe with pepper spray usages. You only want to go to the extent that’s necessary. You don’t want to go beyond that.”
Yet the city’s mayor, Lovely Warren, released a statement calling the footage “disturbing.” She also said that she is “relieved” body cameras are being worn by police so that officials can properly assess situations like this.
“When incidents like this occur, I am relieved that I ensured body-worn cameras are worn by our police, so we can see what occurs on our streets and hold officers accountable. … [Herriott-Sullivan] is working to make sweeping, but necessary, policy and procedure changes along with mandatory training for officers regarding racism and implicit bias,” Mayor Warren said. “Change will not come until we have the ability to fully hold our officers accountable when they violate the public’s trust.”
The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave while an internal investigation is underway.