HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Police pepper-sprayed a 15-year-old girl and charged her as a juvenile with assault and disorderly conduct after her bicycle hit a car, prompting disagreement Wednesday about whether the officers acted properly.
Hagerstown Police Capt. Paul Kifer said the white officer who arrested the mixed-race girl had to subdue her with chemical spray to get her into a cruiser for a ride to the police station Sunday.
Kifer said the girl had refused to cooperate with police trying to question her about the accident and find a parent to authorize her refusal to receive medical treatment from paramedics on the scene.
“The investigation had to be done,” Kifer said. He said that while she appeared uninjured, police also wanted to make sure the girl wasn’t hurt and find out who she was.
“At that point, as would be even with an adult, if you’re refusing to give us information on a traffic situation, at that point you can be arrested until we determine who you are,” he said.
Kifer said investigators determined that the girl caused the accident. She’s also charged with failure to obey a traffic device and marijuana possession. Kifer refused to publicly identify her, citing privacy concerns.
Several officers involved in the girl’s arrest remain on duty while the department investigates, Kifer said. The department is preparing to release police body-camera video of the incident, he said.
Attorney Robin Ficker, retained by the mother, said police should have taken the diminutive girl to a hospital, as her father did after picking her up at the station. Ficker said she wasn’t admitted but suffered sprained muscles and soreness everywhere, including her wrists from being handcuffed. He said she’s been unable to participate in high school soccer and wrestling practice.
“I think the soreness is not caused by the car so much as it was caused by the police,” he said.
Ficker posted on social media a cellphone video of the arrest that shows the screaming girl being placed in the back seat of the cruiser with her arms behind her, apparently restrained. She refuses to put her feet in the car until an officer sprays from a small aerosol can through the partially open door.
One of the officers tells a concerned bystander, “All we want to do is make sure she’s OK.”
Ficker said the girl has a white mother and black father. He declined to identify them.
About 50 demonstrators gathered in a parking lot across the street from police headquarters Wednesday, partly blocking traffic and urging cars to honk their horns. Organizer Leon Racks said someone must be held accountable for what he considers police misconduct.
Hagerstown is a city of 40,000 about 70 miles west of Baltimore.