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Updated at 5:55 p.m. ET
New York Attorney General Letitia James said a grand jury voted no charges will be laid against the Rochester cops in connection with the March 2020 death of Daniel Prude, a black man who was in the middle of a free fall in his sanity during the meeting.
James opened an investigation into the fatal encounter between police and Prude, who later died of asphyxiation, after his family discovered video footage showing officers pinning him to the ground while he was handcuffed and with a mesh hood over his head.
Police images of the body of the arrest sparked outrage when it was posted in September, sparking days of protests and cover-up accusations by city officials.
“We have concluded that there was sufficient evidence regarding Mr. Prude’s death to warrant taking the case to a grand jury, and we have presented the most comprehensive case possible,” James said in a statement. announcing the decision – the culmination of a months-long investigation. by the GA office.
James said Prude, 41, was in the throes of a mental health crisis when police were called to the scene, and that “what he needed was compassion, care and the help of qualified professionals ”.
“Tragically, he didn’t receive any of these things,” she wrote.
James added: “The current lethal force laws have created a system which has completely and abjectly failed Mr. Prude and so many before him. Serious reform is needed, not only in the Rochester Police Department, but in our criminal justice system as a whole. “
She urged the public to “respect this decision” despite feelings of injustice or disappointment.
The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Prude died of “complications of asphyxiation from physical restraint due to excited delirium from acute phencyclidine intoxication” and listed the cause of the death as “homicide”.
Several members of the Rochester Police Department command staff resigned or were sacked following the incident and the protests that followed, and city officials have promised reforms. Days after the footage came out, James announced that she would constitute a grand jury as part of her office’s investigation into Prude’s death.
Attorney Matthew Rich, who represents four of the officers involved, told NPR member station WXXI in November that James’ office had presented to the grand jury since mid-October. He asserted the innocence of the seven agents, including his clients. Of the four, he said, one was not at all at the scene and none had physical contact with Prude.
Details of Prude’s death emerged at the end of a summer marked by protests against racial injustice and police brutality, sparked by high-profile police killings of black victims, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“Daniel was very charismatic,” his brother, Joe Prude, told NPR’s morning edition in September. “He was a good guy all around. He was down to earth, a good man and generous at heart.
Arrested in apparent mental health crisis
Rochester Police arrested Prude in the early hours of March 23 as he responded to a 911 call made by his brother, who was concerned for Prude’s safety during an apparent mental health crisis.
Prude had been released from Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester earlier in the evening after expressing suicidal thoughts, and left her brother’s home in long underpants and a tank top in subzero temperatures. Police found him naked and acting irrationally, allegedly smashing store windows and declaiming coronavirus.
Camera footage of the police body shows officers confronting Prude with Tasers and ordering him to lie down on the snowy road, then handcuffing his hands behind his back when he obeyed. An increasingly agitated Prude began to scream and spit at the officers and attempted to stand up, eventually prompting the officers to place a “balaclava” over his head. Officers then restrained Prude by pinching her head and feet and kneeling on her back.
Prude passed out and stopped breathing, according to police reports. He died a week later after being removed from the life support system.
Joe Prude told NPR he believed the police were responsible for his brother’s death, citing “excessive force”.
“I didn’t call them to come and help my brother die,” he says. “I called them to come and help me get help for my brother.”
Local backlash after video is released
Prude’s family eventually obtained the body camera images through a public record request, and their lawyers released them to the public in early September.
The backlash took protesters to the streets to demand justice and transparency, with some calling on the city’s mayor and police chief to resign amid cover-up charges – accusations both of which were denied.
A day after the video was released, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said Police Chief La’Ron Singletary told him Prude overdosed while in custody and that she did not saw the video of the arrest itself only in August.
She told reporters that Prude had failed “by our police department, our mental health system, our society … and by me.”
She also said that institutional and structural racism led to Prude’s death, noting that she believed these systems wouldn’t have let him down if he was white.
That day, Warren ordered the immediate suspension of seven unpaid police officers and promised changes to the police service and the way it responds to mental health crises.
She later announced that Singletary and the rest of the department’s command staff would resign, saying the 20-year veteran believed that “his career and his integrity [have] been challenged. ”
But she fired him days later, after a preliminary report from the deputy mayor found serious problems with the response of police and city officials to Prude’s death.
Warren also suspended two city officials and called for federal investigations and city-wide reforms based on the findings and recommendations of the one-page report.
Recognizing “systematic failures,” she admitted that she and other officials should have been more transparent from the start.
Earlier this month, Singletary testified before members of Rochester City Council as part of her own investigation into Prude’s death.
In his deposition, he described his conversations with Warren on March 23 and appeared to contradict his previous public statements by saying that he “never” called Prude’s death a drug overdose and warned the mayor only because police officers had been involved.
He also said that after reviewing the police video in March, he and his staff found nothing “outwardly glaring” about the behavior of the officers involved, noting that there was not had “strikes or punches or anything excessive at that time. time.”
Singletary said that while a preliminary review of the incident was underway, no one in the department’s leadership saw it necessary to remove these patrol officers.
Rochester Police have also come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks, when body camera video emerged showing officers handcuffing and spraying cayenne pepper on a nine-year-old girl while responding to a call regarding family troubles. Police have since been suspended, pending the conclusion of an internal investigation.
NPR reported that while Rochester recently launched a “People in Crisis” program aimed at having mental health professionals respond to mental health appeals, the new program was not triggered in this instance because the appeal is came as a family distress call, not a health emergency.