Hagerstown arrest draws criticism
Lawyer for 15-year-old girl says police too aggressive
The attorney for a 15-year-old girl who was pepper-sprayed by Hagerstown police after getting into an accident on her bike said Friday that police were extremely aggressive throughout the incident and showed no regard for the girl’s well-being.
He also sharply criticized Hagerstown Police Chief Victor Brito for saying the officers’ actions last weekend were justified.
“Quite frankly, you’ve got three kinds of police chiefs,” attorney Robin Ficker said. “No. 1, police chiefs who make things happen. No. 2, police chiefs who watch things happen.
“And No. 3, you’ve got police chiefs who don’t know what’s happening, and that’s what we have in Hagerstown.”
The girl was riding her bicycle Sunday when she collided with a moving car. Ficker said she was knocked unconscious for two minutes and suffered a concussion. The girl has said she fought the officers because she was dizzy, confused and scared.
Brito said Thursday his officers initially tried to de-escalate the situation and used pepper spray only as a last resort. He said they were trying to get the girl inside a police 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.
Police said she was responsible for the accident.
Ficker said the girl, whom neither he nor police have publicly identified, was not at fault in the accident, and police never bothered to ask for her version of what happened. He said video clearly showed police “aggression from the get-go,” which he said is why the video has gone viral online.
Brito could not be reached for comment Friday.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the video shows that all of the officers need more training and that the officer who pepper-sprayed the girl is unfit for duty.
“It’s clear that these police officers are ill-equipped to deal with this young woman,” she said. “This is one of the reasons why I have talked about the need to train police officers more intensely to engage with young people or people with mental illness or who are in mental distress.
“Whenyou only have a hammer and have only been trained on how to use a hammer, then everything’s a nail.”
Ifill said she did not know all the details of what happened, but the incident could have been handled better. “When you see that, you see somebody who should not be engaged in any way with the public,” she said. “This is not someone who should be equipped with weapons. That was sadistic. He sprayed into that car window as if she was an insect, simply to deal with what was for him an annoyance.”
The girl is recovering, Ficker said, but had to be pulled out of school because she was being harassed by peers who had seen the video. Ficker said the girl’s soccer coach has placed her on a reserve list because of her concussion.
Ficker said the charges that police have recommended against her should be dismissed immediately. If they aren’t, he said, the girl will go to court, and he will call all of the officers involved to the witness stand.
“We’ll put these cops on the stand and question them under oath, in case we do want to file a civil suit,” Ficker said.