ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A St. Paul police officer was charged Monday with punching a 14-year-old girl twice in the face after she spit on him while handcuffed in the back of a squad car.

Officer Michael Soucheray II faces a charge of misdemeanor assault. He was put on paid leave Monday.

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His attorney, Peter Wold, said in a statement that Soucheray pushed the girl away and that he was acting in self-defense after the girl committed felony assault by spitting into Soucheray’s face. He says Soucheray, 38, reacted with reasonable force.

“Officer Soucheray regrets the attention this political reaction may bring to his fellow officers at the St. Paul Police Department and does assure them that he will defend himself vigorously against this unfortunate action,” Wold said.

According to the criminal complaint, officers were trying to take the girl to a hospital because she was reportedly suicidal, but she refused to go and became agitated, screaming and at one point going limp. Soucheray eventually pulled her into the squad car and sat her up. At one point, the girl stood up and spit on him. Soucheray then punched the girl twice and grabbed her by the jaw or neck area, the complaint said.

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An internal affairs investigation was opened the day after the incident, and Soucheray was assigned to an administrative role that didn’t include patrol, said police spokesman Steve Linders.

Police Chief Todd Axtell said in a statement that when incidents occur that do not meet high professional standards, “swift and decisive action is taken to hold ourselves accountable.”

Police records show Soucheray has been reprimanded three times previously, including for preventable squad car crashes in 2016 and 2014 and for failing to attend a scheduled court trial in 2012, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

Dave Titus, St. Paul Police Federation president, said Soucheray is an outstanding officer and the union is disappointed that he’s been charged.

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