A Cincinnati Police Officer stunned an 11-year-old girl with a Taser on Monday, the city’s police department said, setting off anger and driving officials to re-examine the department’s use-of-force policy.
The girl, who is African-American, was suspected of shoplifting food, Councilman Jeff Pastor said on Wednesday. The officer, who is also black, was off duty and working a security detail for the Kroger grocery store where the incident happened, Mr. Pastor said.
“As a father, I could never imagine a scenario where it is acceptable to Tase an 11-year-old child,” he said. “Ever. Ever.”
Chief Eliot Isaac of the Cincinnati Police Department said in a statement on Tuesday: “We are extremely concerned when force is used by one of our officers on a child of this age. We will be taking a very thorough review of our policies as it relates to using force on juveniles as well as the propriety of the officer’s actions.”
The girl told NBC News that she was not aggressive toward the officer. “It hit my back real fast and then I stopped, then I fell and I was shaking and I couldn’t really breathe,” she said of the Taser. “It’s just like you’re passing out, but you’re shaking.”
The girl’s mother told NBC: “I’m not saying what she did was cool, I’m not saying that, but what he did was totally wrong.”
“Whoever thought of these rules needs to step back and think,” she added.
According to the Cincinnati Police Department’s procedure manual, Tasers may be used on children as young as 7. But before using a stun gun, the manual says, officers must consider the severity of the crime and the risk of danger to others if the person is not quickly apprehended.
“Use the Taser for self-defense or to control subjects that are actively resisting arrest,” the manual says, adding that whenever possible, the subject should be given a verbal warning and the officer should obtain backup.
Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, the chairman of Cincinnati’s Law and Public Safety Committee, said he was introducing legislation on Wednesday that proposes raising the minimum age for Taser use by officers to 12. He also asked for a “comprehensive look at all of the Tasing episodes involving minor children” over the last two years and a “complete review of all Tasing policies.”
During the episode on Monday, the 11-year-old girl was accompanied by several young women who were all “allegedly stealing items from the store,” a spokesman for the Cincinnati police said in a statement.
A police report identified the officer as Kevin D. Brown, 55. He has been placed on desk duty, Mr. Smitherman said.
When the officer approached one of the girls, she continued to walk away, “ignoring several commands to stop,” the statement said. At that point, the officer shot the 11-year-old in the back with his stun gun, the police said. She was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and later released. The police charged her with theft and obstructing official business.
But on Wednesday, Mayor John Cranley said in a statement that he had asked the prosecutor for Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, to drop both charges.
“I’m happy to report that he did and I thank for him doing so,” Mr. Cranley said.
A spokesman for the Cincinnati Police Department did not return phone calls or respond to emails requesting additional information.
Mr. Smitherman said the officer’s body camera was not activated or did not work. “We’re trying to pull the film from Kroger,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Kroger said in a statement on Wednesday that “we are saddened by this situation,” adding that the grocery store chain shared the police chief’s “extreme concern.”
“We want to understand what happened, why it happened, and we are assisting local law enforcement with their investigation,” the statement said.
Ohio law does not offer guidance to officers on Taser use, said Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for the Ohio attorney general’s office. Each police department is responsible for coming up with its own policy, she said.
Mr. Smitherman said he was not aware of any other Tasing incidents in Cincinnati involving children, and called this case an “outlier.”
Black youths are more than five times as likely to be detained or committed to juvenile facilities as their white counterparts, according to a 2017 report from the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit working to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
When asked if race might have played a role in the Tasering at Kroger on Monday, Mr. Smitherman noted that both the officer and the girl were black, adding, “I can give you a dissertation on that, but it probably wouldn’t go anywhere.”
Reaction to the news was swift in Cincinnati and on social media.
“It is barbaric and savage to use a Taser on an 11 year old accused of stealing food,” Kristen Clarke, the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said on Twitter.
“No one concerned about why an 11 year old is stealing food?” one woman wrote on Facebook. “Just concerned about appropriate punishment.”
Another wrote: “I am generally a supporter of the police. It’s a hard job, and things can turn bad instantly. But this??? No. No!”
Mr. Pastor called the episode “appalling” and said, “It’s a very unfortunate situation and I think it rattled every parent to the core.”