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Attorney for 15-year-old girl pepper-sprayed by Hagerstown police slams chief for justifying actions

Hagerstown Police stopped a 15-year-old girl that was involved in a bike and one car accident. After she refused to give them her name and parental information, they handcuffed and pepper sprayed her in the car.

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.

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"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."

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The girl was riding her bicycle Sunday when she collided with a moving car.

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.

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Ficker said the girl 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.

Ficker said his client, whom neither he nor police have publicly identified, was riding her bike through an intersection with a yellow light when she was struck by a car. He 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 could not be reached for comment Friday.

The police body-camera video shows the officers repeatedly asking the girl for her parents' contact information, 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.

The video shows two officers cuff her hands behind her back and tell her to stop resisting. 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 into the police car.

"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 window of the patrol car as another officer shuts the door. The girl coughs and screams, "I can't breathe."

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.

"When you 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, especially considering that the girl had just been injured in an accident.

Ifill was more direct about the officer who pepper-sprayed the girl.

"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.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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