Rochester’s police accountability board is investigating a video of a police officer handcuffing an emergency medical technician tending to a patient on a stretcher shared widely on social media last week.
According to reports, the officer asked the EMT to hand over her identification card after she accidentally banged the ambulance door into his patrol car parked in the ambulance bay at Strong Memorial Hospital as she unloaded a patient on July 11 in the western New York city. The EMT reportedly told the officer that she needed to get the patient inside first.
Video footage shows the officer approaching the woman as she stands next to the patient on the gurney. He pushes the female EMT in front of a desk, spins her around, handcuffs her and then escorts her outside. Reports show she was released later, and no charges were filed.
Twitter video of the woman being rousted was shared by a WHEC reporter and has been viewed 3.5 million times and retweeted and reproduced thousands of other times. Many are criticizing the officer’s actions.
The independent police accountability board of community members said it “has been made aware” of the incident and is “in the process of reviewing the information.”
Rochester Police Chief David Smith said the department launched an internal investigation into the incident. The officer has been placed on desk duty to limit interaction with the public until the investigation is completed.
“As Chief, I demand the members of the Rochester Police Department perform their duties in a professional manner. And as such, we must hold ourselves to a high standard of accountability,” Smith said in a statement.
Ambulance bays allow medical professionals to unload a patient and quickly get them into a hospital’s emergency department. Research shows that police vehicles must follow the same traffic rules as everyone else except in an emergency. It is unclear why the officer who was not identified was parked in the ambulance bay.
Chris Dewey, the chief information officer at Monroe Ambulance, commended the EMT for prioritizing the patient amid the altercation with the officer. The organization plans to recognize the tech publicly in the coming days, but she has asked that her identity remains private. However, he also called for the public not to criticize the entire Rochester Police Department for one officer’s actions.
“While this incident is still under internal investigation, our review of the video footage of the event shows the safety of both our employee and that of her patient were jeopardized by the action of the officer,” Dewey said in an early statement.
“Our employee showed sound decision making by prioritizing the care of her patient and it is the expectation of all our care providers to do the same.”
“We would, however, appreciate resisting derogatory comments against RPD as an organization. This incident was perpetrated by a single individual and subject to investigation by his employer, everyone is entitled to due process regardless of opinion,” Dewey said in a Friday night statement. “We trust that the matter will be disposed of appropriately and responsibly.”
“Furthermore, we do not believe the behavior of the officer aligns with the values of RPD leadership and should in no way condemn the rest of the brave brothers and sisters in blue. We are eager to learn of the outcome of RPD’s official investigation.”
Mike Johnson of SAVE Rochester, a local Black civil rights activist organization, said they spoke with the EMT and she plans to take legal action.
“This is just evidence that Black people, Black women, are often victimized, even in the most extraordinary circumstances,” said Johnson. “This victim was just doing her job.”
Community activist Antonia Wynter questioned why the officer could not choose another route to address the issue.
“He could have had a conversation with her. Why did your first go-to decide to be physical?” Wynter asked. “This is traumatic. This is intolerable. The people that are charged with protecting and serving are injuring and accosting people that they work with.”
“We value our first responders. We value our police force. We expect them to work harmoniously to protect us, to serve us, when we’re sick, when we’re in trouble, and this just impairs those relationships with them. And when we see that you’re treating someone like this, and we expect you guys to work together, how should we feel as the public? This happened in a facility that’s supposed to be caring for people.”