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Mother of 9-year-old handcuffed and pepper-sprayed speaks out

A screen grab from a Rochester Police Department body-worn camera that captured a female officer pepper-spraying a 9-year-old handcuffed girl.

A Rochester woman is speaking out about an  incident that has garnered worldwide attention, when her 9- year-old daughter was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by city police on Friday.

Elba Pope tells public media's WXXI News her daughter is doing better, but she’s still distraught about the incident last week when police responded to a report of family trouble and found the child yelling for her dad as she walked outside her house in the bitter cold.

When officers had difficulty in getting her to go into a patrol car so they could call for an ambulance, they handcuffed the girl, and then pepper-sprayed her.

Pope has filed a notice of claim, the first step in a lawsuit against the city, and said that her daughter feels guilty about the whole situation.

“She feels like she got me in trouble, she’s so apologetic and so emotional and I explained to her every step of the way, you’re not in trouble, you’re good.”

Pope said one reason she filed the lawsuit is to cause change in the police system.

“A change in how they respond to mental health, a change in how you treat minors, a kid, a 9-year-old. Under any circumstances it’s not OK to pepper spray a 9-year-old that’s already detained inside of the car.”

Pope’s attorney, Lorenzo Napolitano, is not surprised this incident has garnered worldwide attention.

“When you see this happen and you see her not getting the help she needs, it’s a gut punch, to be honest with you. It just really pulls on your heart strings to hear that and I think we’re all ingrained to respond to a child and recognize when a child, an innocent person is in distress.”

Napolitano said the notice of claim seeks damages for negligence, violations of constitutional rights, assault, battery, excessive force and inflection of emotional distress.

A statement from City Hall said Mayor Lovely Warren continues to be outraged by what occurred on Friday and is continuing to work to reform the police department and ensure accountability. The statement said that Warren "continues to be outraged by what occurred" and remains concerned that the child involved and her family get the support they need.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.
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