The fallout after video surfaces of an unarmed Black man being physically restrained in Rochester, N.Y. resulting in his death is causing civil unrest in the state’s third largest city, police reforms and even the resignation of a top law enforcement official.
The situation involves Black, 41-year-old Daniel Prude who was killed by officers from the Rochester Police Department on March 22. Prude was reportedly visiting his brother when he began to have a mental episode. Prude’s brother called 911 and Prude was taken to a hospital for an evaluation and was later released.
Prude continued behaving erratically hours later and his brother called 911 again. Officers found the man naked on the street. Police say he complied when he was ordered to get on the ground but began spitting at police, making them decide to place a spit hood over Prude’s head.
Police tried to get Prude off the ground. One of the officers used his body weight and his hands to push Prude’s face onto the pavement while another officer placed his knee to Prude’s back and another held his legs. Prude began vomiting and was unconscious after being restrained.
Prude was taken to an area hospital and his heart was revived while in an ambulance but was incapacitated before becoming brain-dead. He died a week later after he was taken off life support. Reports indicate Prude died of complications from asphyxia and his death was ruled a homicide. An autopsy report claims Prude had the drug phencyclidine (PCP) in his system.
Prude’s brother Joe said police “assassinated” his brother and should have helped him rather than kill him. The family announced plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Rochester.
“If you look deep down inside your heart, you understand that all we are really asking for is justice,” Joe Prude said at a recent rally. “That’s all I want for my brother. Nothing else but justice.”
Bodycam footage of the incident were released last week. The officers involved in Prude’s death have been identified as Michael Magri, Josiah Harris, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Troy Taladay and Mark Vaughn. All of the officers were suspended by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren pending an investigation.
“Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police, our mental health care system, our society and by me,” said Warren. “And, for that I apologize to the Prude family and all of our community. In August 1962, my cousin’s grandfather Rufus Fairwell was a victim of police brutality and eventually became the first citizen of Rochester to receive a settlement for his suffering. It is now September 2020 and Daniel Prude’s death has proven yet again that many of the challenges we faced then still exist today.”
In a joint statement, members of the Rochester City Council said law enforcement failed Prude rather than helping him.
“No person should have to endure what we saw on the body camera footage,” the Council said. “In a moment of need, his family reached out for help and our system failed Mr. Prude at every turn. Like many in our community, the Council only learned of and saw this footage today. While we are extremely troubled by this matter, we are limited in what we can do at this time.”
State Attorney General Letitia James announced this week that her office is taking action on the Prude killing.
“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish,” James said. “My office will immediately move to empanel a grand jury as part of our exhaustive investigation into this matter.”
Prude joins the list of names of Black Americans who have died at the hands of police this year including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Following his death, protest demonstrations have been going on in Rochester since release of the bodycam video on Sept. 2. While some have turned violent, the majority of demonstrations have remained peaceful.
On Sunday, Sept. 6, more than 1,000 people peacefully protested outside of the Public Safety Building where police made no arrests. On Monday night, police reported a crowd of 600 people arrived at the Public Safety Building.
Activist organization Free the People Roc has been at the helm of organizing many of the protests. The organization has several demands including the resignation of Warren and that the officers involved be fired. They plan to continue to march until their demands are met.
“The officers involved in Prude’s killing must be fired and prosecuted,” the group said. “And the Rochester Police Department must be stopped from responding to mental health calls and defunded.”
Retired NYPD detective and founder of Blacks in Law Enforcement Alliance Marq Claxton told the AmNews that he questions the delay of the bodycam footage of Prude’s killing. He said Prude’s killing is another example of the need for more increased accountability and transparency by the government.
“Clearly, the only reason that the sordid details are being examined is because the progressive movement of activists forced the release of body camera video,” Claxton said. “The Rochester P.D. were obviously fully committed to burying this incident along with the body of Mr. Prude. Sadly, even with the disclosure of the video and autopsy results and the shocking claim by the mayor that she had not been fully informed about the circumstances of Mr. Prude’s death, the police still have their jobs. There will be no substantive reform in policing without immediate full accountability.”
President of People For the American Way and former NAACP President Ben Jealous told the AmNews that Prude is dead because police didn’t offer to protect or serve him. Jealous is calling for more mental health training for law enforcement. “It is heart wrenching that someone who needed help with a mental health crisis was instead pinned to the ground, suffocated, and killed at the hands of those we should be able to reach out too when we need help,” Jealous said. “Daniel’s murder must not be in vain. We must take this opportunity to insist on policies that properly train our police officers, incorporate mental health professionals in how we respond to emergency mental health calls.”
Following a national pattern of cop resignations following protests against oft times fatal police brutality, after over a week of civil unrest on the streets of Rochester on Tuesday afternoon, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and all of his four executive staff retired, resigned, or went back to their former ranks.
One of the demands Free the People Roc had been that Singletary resign. He will, however, remain on the job through the end of the month. Under his leadership, the police department has been accused of covering up Prude’s death leading to the delay of the release of the bodycam footage.
“The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for,” Singletary said. “The mischaracterization and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not based on facts, and is not what I stand for.”
Claxton countered, “To me it shows that they know they are criminally exposed for their cover-up attempt and now they won’t have to make public statements about their actions.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 8, Tameshay Prude, sister of the deceased filed a civil rights lawsuit in United States District Court for the Western District of New York against Singletary, the cops involved in the arrest and the city of Rochester.