Chief: Officers justified for pepper-spraying girl whose bicycle hit a car

HAGERSTOWN, MD (AP) — 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.

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