Chief: Pep­per-spray­ing was jus­ti­fied

Girl, 15, re­fused to co­op­er­ate with Hagerstown po­lice af­ter her bi­cy­cle struck a car

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By David Dish­neau

HAGERSTOWN — Po­lice video shows a po­lice of­fi­cer 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 In this video frame grab from a po­lice body cam­era, an of­fi­cer speaks with a 15-yearold girl in Hagerstown af­ter a mi­nor traf­fic ac­ci­dent. 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 was 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 that his of­fi­cers 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 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. She 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 said.

Ficker said the girl has a white mother and black fa­ther. Po­lice have not iden­ti­fied them, cit­ing pri­vacy con­cerns.

On 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.

“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.

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.

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