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‘I Don’t Have Time for Your BS’: Rochester Officer on Leave After Pepper-Spraying Black Mother In Front of Her Toddler

A Rochester, New York, police officer has been placed on administrative leave after using pepper spray on a Black mother who was suspected of shoplifting in a February incident, the police department said at a Friday press conference. Video footage of the incident recently made public shows that the officer used pepper spray on the woman and pinned her to the ground in front of her toddler.

The Police Accountability Board in Rochester is now calling for major changes to be made to the city’s police department amid the Friday release of footage of the northeast Rochester encounter.

Video footage of a February incident recently made public shows that a Rochester officer used pepper spray on the woman and pinned her to the ground in front of her toddler. (Photo: Rochester PD screenshot)

Police responded to a report of a woman shoplifting from a Rite Aid and encountered the woman and her 3-year-old child on the sidewalk near Clifford and Portland avenues.

“Did you steal from that store?” the officer asked as he approached the woman, who was holding the child. “Oh, come on, they said you stole, what’d you steal?”

As the woman began to deny the accusation, the officer said, “I don’t have time for your BS, so you better be quick with me.”

The woman then set the child down and partially emptied her purse in an attemot to prove to the officer that she had not stolen anything.

The officer told the woman to get in his squad car with the child so that they could return to the store and confirm with the employee that nothing was stolen, but the woman took off running away from the officer.

When the officer caught up to the woman outside of a nearby restaurant, he forced her to the ground, as the toddler began to cry. The officer’s body camera appears to have fallen on the ground, and captured the audio but no footage of the continued struggle as the child’s screams grew louder.

According to the Democrat and Chronicle, the woman got up and a physical struggle over the child ensued before she was pepper sprayed and taken to the ground a second time.

Although the child was not directly sprayed, officials expressed concern that she could still may have been exposed.

“As we all know from (earlier) protests, pepper spray goes everywhere immediately, so this child was exposed to the gas,” said Rochester City Council member Mary Lupien after reviewing the footage. She added that the toddler was “suspended between two people,” when the mother was holding the child’s hand while the officer was grabbing her arm.

In a statement, the police department said, “The child was not pepper sprayed or injured during the arrest.”

“These disturbing incidents prove that the Rochester Police Department needs to fundamentally change its organizational culture,” read a statement from the city’s Police Accountability Board. “These incidents also affirm our community’s call to fundamentally reimagine public safety.” 

The woman was not charged with shoplifting, but was charged with trespassing and given an appearance ticket, as employees at the store confirmed “she knocked a number of items off of the shelf and refused repeated requests to leave,” according to Interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.

Herriott-Sullivan said it appears that the officer followed protocols, but questioned, “Just because we can do certain things, should we?”

The controversy comes less than a month after Rochester police were criticized for pepper spraying a 9-year-old child in the face while she was in the back of a squad car after she refused to put her feet in the vehicle.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren responded to that incident, saying she was “deeply troubled by the macing and handcuffing of a child who is in distress and clearly emotional.” 

New York’s attorney general also announced last month that the Rochester officers who restrained 41-year-old Daniel Prude before he died in March 2020 would face no charges in connection with his death.

Prude’s five children have filed a federal suit against Rochester, alleging an ignored history of police misconduct and abuse.

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