Rochester, N.Y.— On Friday, October 26, 13WHAM News captured video of city school students downtown being pepper sprayed by police. More than 100 students were there to watch a fight. There had been several fights downtown during the week and police had tried multiple times to break up the crowd on Friday.
Two students were arrested for disorderly conduct as a result of the fight.
The Rochester Police Department says it had to use pepper spray to break up the crowd for the safety of the officers, students and others.
Rochester School Board Commissioner Van White says he doesn’t object to RPD’s use of pepper spray on the students in general, but says there is one incident captured on tape that causes concern.
“The officer, it appears, wants to make sure that the students got a burst of pepper spray and sprays it nearly right in [the student’s] face,” says White. “That's the conduct that was shocking or disturbing to me.”
White continues to say that two of the students were walking away from the crowd and were covering their faces when the officer sprayed in their faces.
“I don't see any reason why that officer would have had to used consecutive bursts of pepper spray on people who were retreating in a calm and orderly way,” says White.
White says he doesn’t condone the actions of the students who were downtown for the fight, but says he also feels the students didn’t deserve the treatment they got.
“The message should be loud and clear. Not only will this community not tolerate young people being violent and disruptive downtown but [we won’t tolerate it] if adults do it either,” he says. “We have gotten to a point where police don't trust citizens and citizens don't trust police. We've got to begin dialogue about that. If there is a silver lining to this video, hopefully, this conversation will take place.”
White says he has written a letter to Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard asking that this incident be investigated and the officer be disciplined or retrained if the investigation finds the incident violated the department’s policies.
Last Friday, RPD issued this statement:
“Over the last week downtown has seen an increase in groups engaging in fighting and tumultuous behavior. We continue to deploy our resources downtown to effectively protect the citizens of this community. We will continue to collaborate with our partners from the Rochester Transit Authority and Rochester city school district on ways to eliminate schools students behaving in this manner while downtown.
"Under certain circumstances, RPD officers may use OC spray on groups that are fighting, or being unruly. As a standard practice, we review each use of force, including use of OC spray, by RPD officers on an individual basis, taking into account the totality of circumstances, including what is seen and not seen on the video, to ensure it complies with RPD policies, procedures, and training. We will follow this process to review the use of OC spray shown in the video.”