Chief: Officers justified in pepper-spraying girl, 15
Hagerstown, Md. — Police video shows an officer in Maryland pepper-spraying a 15-year-old girl who refused to cooperate after her bicycle hit a car.
The body-camera video was released after an attorney for the girl’s family posted a bystander’s video on Facebook, expressing outrage and accusing the officers of “aggression from the get-go.”
The girl pepper-sprayed by police said she fought the officers because she was dizzy, confused and scared after her bicycle hit a moving car, briefly knocking her unconscious.
The girl and her mother spoke to reporters Thursday outside Hagerstown police headquarters while about 100 people demonstrated nearby, demanding accountability.
The girl said she refused medical help and cursed and kicked at police because she wanted to go home. She said she wouldn’t identify herself because she’s a private person.
The girl’s mother said, “I feel that it could have been handled better on her part, but I don’t know that she was even in the right frame of mind. The child was knocked unconscious.”
The mother said that if police were concerned about her daughter’s health, “why was she not transported to the hospital? Why?”
The girl’s father eventually took her to an emergency room, where she diagnosed with a possible concussion, a closed head injury, whiplash and multiple contusions, according to a medical report provided by the family’s lawyer.
At a news conference Thursday, Hagerstown Police Chief Victor Brito insisted his officers initially tried to de-escalate the situation, and only used pepper spray as a last resort to get the girl inside a cruiser and off to the police station as a potentially dangerous crowd began gathering.
Brito said the girl calmed down at the station, where she was charged as a juvenile with assault, disorderly conduct, a traffic violation and marijuana possession.
Brito denied that the girl was slammed against a wall, as the girl and her lawyer contend. But a bystander’s cellphone video shows an officer swinging the girl by her handcuffed arm toward a building. The camera angle misses the moment of impact, but shows her a moment later, pressed face-first against the wall.
The police body-cam video shows the white officers repeatedly trying to question the mixed-race girl to get contact information for her parents, in part to authorize her refusal to receive medical treatment from the paramedics who responded to the accident. She repeatedly refuses, swears and struggles to get free.
“All we want to do is make sure she’s OK,” one officer tells a concerned bystander.
The family’s attorney, Robin Ficker, said the girl was briefly knocked unconscious by Sunday’s collision, but had recovered by the time officers arrived, about five minutes later. The girl shows no visible injuries in the videos and tells the officers she wasn’t hurt.
“If someone has been knocked out and then wants to go home, instead of going with strangers, and then is grabbed physically by some huge guy and her hands shoved up behind her back so it’s painful — this is not a gentle, ‘Here, sit here, we want to talk to you about this, call your parents,’ ” he observed.
Ficker said the girl has a white mother and black father. Police have not identified them, citing privacy concerns.
On the nearly 15 minutes of police body camera recordings, the girl can be seen and heard becoming hysterical as she’s being detained. Finally, two officers cuff the girl’s hands behind her back and hold her down by her shoulders as they tell her to stop resisting.
“Get off of me, stop touching me!” she screams, and an officer responds, “I’m not going to stop touching you, because you wanted to leave.”
“We’re trying to help you,” one officer says, explaining that they need to contact her parents, since she’s a minor. She refuses to help them, saying she will get in trouble.
Finally, two officers pick her up by the shoulders and legs. She kicks one of their body cameras, stopping that recording, but another officer’s camera shows her continuing to resist being put in the cruiser.
“Put your feet in, you’re going to get sprayed,” an officer says. Another tells other officers, “I’ll just spray her if you want to step back.” He then sprays for several seconds through the partially open window as another officer shuts the door.
The girl then coughs and screams, “I can’t breathe.”
Police Capt. Paul Kifer said the girl was found to be responsible for the collision. In the video, the car’s driver tells an officer that she rode through a red light, and points out several scratches on his car door.
Ficker, retained by the mother, posted a bystander’s cellphone video on Facebook Tuesday.
“This little girl, 5 ft. 105 lbs, was brutalized by Hagerstown police after, she, on her bike, was hit by a car, but refused medical treatment. They slammed her against a wall, arrested her for refusing treatment, maced her 4 times in the police car while handcuffed, and took her to the police station instead of the hospital!” Ficker wrote.