When a teenage girl riding her bike collided with a car, cops didn’t simply take her to the hospital but instead handcuffed her, pepper sprayed her, and threw her in the back of their squad car.
A bystander’s cell phone footage shows the 15-year-old girl from Hagerstown, Maryland being loaded into a police car Sunday. At this point the girl, a minor whose name is being withheld, ask to speak with “Zack,” an officer she says is black, unlike her arresting officers who are white. Then, while the girl is handcuffed in the back of the car, police are seen firing pepper spray at her through the window.
“I can’t breathe!” the girl screams.
Instead of taking the girl to the hospital like they initially told her, police took her to the police station for interrogation. But her lawyer said she never should have been in the squad car in the first place.
“She was flipped over in the air, came down hard on the pavement, was motionless there for at least 30 seconds,” attorney Robin Ficker told The Daily Beast. “Then she recovered, woke up and the ambulance came. She did not want to go with the strangers in the ambulance, she wanted to go to her home nearby. She got on her bike, started peddling away to go home, and a huge officer grabbed her off her bike without any warning whatsoever from behind.”
Body camera footage released by the Hagerstown Police shows the girl refusing to go with police before an officer grabs her backpack. Then she is handcuffed and pushed against a brick wall while bystanders gather. “You let that badge go to your head,” one onlooker tells an officer.
While the officers had allegedly arrived on the scene to take the girl to the hospital, they began referring to her in criminal terms.
“We’re detaining you for incooperation with an investigation,” one officer says while the girl is forcibly cuffed.
Hagerstown Police told The Daily Beast that they were simultaneously investigating the girl’s bike crash while attempting to take her to the hospital.
“The reason she was placed in custody, is first and foremost we were investigating an accident she was involved in,” Hagerstown Police Captain Paul Kifer told The Daily Beast. “She attempted to leave on a bicycle … she refused to give ay info on who she was.”
Even if the officers had wanted to take her to the hospital, they had no legal grounds for doing so forcibly, Ficker said.
“They said ‘you have to come in, you can’t refuse treatment.’ Well there’s no Maryland law that says you can’t refuse treatment,” he told The Daily Beast. “They certainly don’t arrest every Jehovah’s Witness that refuses treatment. There’s no law that says you can’t refuse treatment.”
When bystanders began arguing with police, an officer used the girl’s age to justify her arrest, saying that she could not refuse treatment as a minor.
“What happens when she’s like ‘I’m fine,’ and has a brain injury afterwards?” an officer says when an onlooker filming the event asks why the girl is being arrested. “She could die later … all we want to do is make sure she’s okay.”
Kifer said the girl’s detention was standard procedure.
“We’re not gonna let her go until she’s released to a parent or guardian,” he told The Daily Beast. “If we let her go and she goes around the corner and has an aneurism and dies, that’s on us.”
But Ficker said the force of the girl’s arrest contradicts the police argument that she required urgent treatment.
“Well if someone may have brain damage, why are you slamming her against a wall? Why are you putting her in a police car,” he said, “without a seatbelt, I might add, in violation of police policy.”
Even after police seat the handcuffed girl in the squad car, she refuses to pull her feet into the vehicle, body camera footage shows. Police fire pepper spray at her face from close range and slam the door while she is coughing and screaming. The car pulls away while the girl is still shouting and crying.
But police did not take her to a hospital, Ficker said. Instead, the girl was transported to the police station, where she was interrogated and charged with disorderly conduct, two counts of second degree assault, possession of marijuana and failure to obey a traffic device.
Ficker contends that the “flake” of marijuana found in the girl’s backpack was planted by police, a claim police adamantly deny.
“I categorically deny that,” Kifer said. “It’s absurd and offensive for an attorney to accuse law enforcement of planting anything.”
Police did not return a request for a copy of the arrest report. But Ficker says the official reason for the girl’s arrest, as listed in her medical report was not criminal at all.
“Police told the hospital that the reason she was arrested was not because she was refusing treatment, but because she wouldn’t give insurance information,” Ficker said. “Insurance was never mentioned, and furthermore, who expects a kid on a bike to have insurance information?”
“It’s ridiculous,” he added. “These cops are lying.”