The 14-year-old girl was upset, possibly suicidal and in need of psychiatric help, court documents say, but there was no way she was getting into an ambulance.
St. Paul Police Officer Michael Soucheray and his partner, Chris Rhoades, were sent to defuse the situation at Brittany’s Place, a shelter for girls on the east side of the Minnesota city in December.
But the teenager “became agitated,” a criminal complaint says, and she gave officers and shelter staff the silent treatment.
They decided it was best if the officers — instead of paramedics — took the girl to the hospital. But still, she resisted. Officers handcuffed her and told her that if she didn’t cooperate, she’d be dragged into the squad car, according to court documents. She responded by going limp.
But as the officers approached the car with the girl in tow, she roared to life, screaming and standing in the seat as officers tried to put a seat belt on her, according to a criminal complaint and the officer’s attorney.
Then she cleared her throat and spat in Soucheray’s face, the complaint and the officer’s attorney say.
Soucheray, a seven-year member of the police department, balled up his fist and punched the girl in the face, the complaint says. Then he did it again.
He grabbed her by the jaw and called her “f—— b—-,” according to the complaint.
On Monday, Soucheray was charged with fifth-degree assault, a misdemeanor that could land the officer in prison for 90 days.
And the officer’s punch in the back of a patrol car has embroiled another Twin Cities police department in the heated national debate about police use of force.
Soucheray is on paid administrative leave, as his police department conducts an internal investigation, according to his department’s Facebook page.
“The Saint Paul Police Department is committed to serving the City of Saint Paul with the highest levels of professionalism,” the statement said. “As the department has demonstrated time and time again, when incidents occur that do not meet those standards, swift and decisive action is taken to hold ourselves accountable.”
The statement said the department is waiting for the legal process to play out “before commenting further or taking any additional actions.”
The girl wasn’t seriously injured. She was charged in connection with the spitting incident, although her juvenile case is secret in Minnesota.
Soucheray’s attorney, Peter Wold, told The Washington Post that the officer has apologized to his colleagues for his language. But the punches weren’t a product of anger or rage, Wold said — they were an appropriate use of force in a situation where he had to defend himself.
“He’s wedged in the back of the squad car with this belligerent screaming young woman that just clears her throat while he’s trying to help her and spits in his face,” Wold said. “That’s dangerous. He was just a matter of inches away. … She might be a young girl, but you don’t know whether she has diseases or what. And that’s an assault when you spit in someone’s face like that.”
Wold said his client was irritated, but the officer reacted to stop the girl’s behavior.
Soucheray has been disciplined three times in the past, but never in connection with a use of force, his attorney said. Wold described Soucheray as a “good cop” who’s married to an officer and has a good working relationship with Rhoades, his patrol partner of six years.
He has received two reprimands for preventable car crashes and was disciplined in 2012 for not attending a court trial, according to police department records obtained by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
But his punch comes as the United States is embroiled in a debate about whether police officers are too quick to use force. Last year, police officers in the United States shot and killed 963 people — a quarter of those were having some kind of mental health crisis.
Emotions are especially raw in Minnesota after Philando Castile was shot and killed by an officer during a traffic stop in the summer in Falcon Heights, a Twin Cities suburb about eight miles from St. Paul. The shooting’s aftermath was broadcast on Facebook Live and quickly spread across social media and cable news. The officer who shot Castile was ultimately charged with manslaughter.
Wold said he thought the political climate factored into the decision to charge his client.
“It’s tough enough being a cop nowadays,” he said. “Just the regular danger and the antipathy toward them by different groups. It’s hard enough but with the political environment. … Politically it’s easier to charge him than not. Then let it go the course and see what happens there.”
Correction: A previous version of this article said that Falcon Heights, Minn., is about 75 miles from St. Paul. It is approximately eight miles away.