Trigger warning: This post contains a video with graphic content.
Two months before the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota inspired global Black Lives Matter protests, Daniel Prude was suffocated by officers in Rochester, NY. Prude, a 41 year old Black man, died of asphyxiation after police put a hood over his head and pressed his face into the ground for two minutes. He died seven days after the March 23rd incident when he was taken off life support, per the Associated Press. Prude's family released video of his arrest and other records related to Prude's cause of death, which a medical examiner ruled a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint." They're asking that the officers involved in Prude's death be charged as they seek justice.
Today, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron D. Singletary, Deputy Chief Joseph Morabito, and other high-ranking officials in the department have resigned, The New York Times reports. Mayor Lovely Warren said, “The entire Rochester Police Department command staff has announced their retirement.” Warren clarified that she didn't demand Singletary's resignation and that it came amid “new information that was brought to light today that I had not previously seen before.”
Their resignations, including Singletary's, who spent 20 years on the force, arrive almost a week after Rochester Mayor Warren announced that seven officers involved in Prude's death had been suspended with pay. “I am suspending the officers in question today against council’s advice, and I urge the attorney general to complete her investigation,” Warren said in a press conference. “I understand that the union may sue the city for this, they shall feel free to do so — I have been sued before.”
At another press conference, Prude’s brother Joe said, according to the AP: “I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched."
He continued: “How did you see him and not directly say, ‘The man is defenseless, buck naked on the ground. He’s cuffed up already. Come on.’ How many more brothers gotta die for society to understand that this needs to stop?”
Here's what you need to know and how you can help.
What happened on March 23rd?
On Sunday, March 22, Prude was on a train from Chicago to Rochester for a visit with his brother. Per the AP, Prude was forced off the train before Rochester "due to his unruly behavior," according to an internal affairs investigator’s report. Rochester police officers took Prude to the hospital for a mental health evaluation around 7 p.m. Prude reportedly had suicidal thoughts but only remained there for a few hours.
By around 3 a.m. the next morning, Daniel's brother Joe called 911 to report his brother had left the house. In the video, Prude can be seen naked as the snow falls, sitting on the ground with his hands behind his back in compliance with police orders at the timestamp 3:19 a.m. A "spit hood" is placed over Prude's head and he became visibly distressed, demanding the officers remove it. The coverings are typically intended to shield officers from a person's saliva, and the incident took place early in the coronavirus pandemic.
At one point while his face is covered, Prudee shouts, “Give me that gun. Give me that gun,” and tries to stand up. Three officers push him down and one places both hands on Prude's head, holding him against the ground. Another puts a knee on Prude's back while the hood stays on his head. An officer tells Prude to "stop spitting" and "calm down" while Prude can be heard saying, "Trying to kill me!" and "OK, stop. I need it. I need it." Two minutes later, Prude is no longer moving or speaking. "You good, man?" one asks, while another notices Prude has thrown up water onto the pavement. Another notes that Prude's been out in the cold naked for a long period of time. A third says, "He feels pretty cold."
Paramedics are called over and they the officers to roll Prude over they can perform CPR. He appears unresponsive and is placed inside the ambulance shortly before 3:30 a.m. According to his family, Prude arrived brain dead at the hospital 15 minutes later. He was taken off life support on March 30, seven days after the incident.
Prude's death was ruled a homicide by the Monroe County Medical Examiner. It was caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” “Excited delirium” and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, were listed as contributing factors, per the report.
What happens next?
During a press conference on Wednesday, Joe Prude referred to his brother's death as "cold-blooded murder." Elliot Dolby-Shields, a lawyer for the Prude family, said one reason Prude's death had not been widely publicized was that it took months to obtain the body camera footage and no other recordings existed. Dolby-Shields also confirmed the family is in the early stages of filing a wrongful death suit.
Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren said in a press conference on Thursday that she had been told Prude had died of "an apparent overdose while in custody" by Police Chief La'Ron D. Singletary. "I only learned of those officers actions on August 4 when cooperation council Tim Curtin reviewed the video for the FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request by Prude’s family," Warren said. "At no time before August 4 did Singletary or anyone make me aware of the officers’ actions in regard to Mr. Prude’s death."
"We are in need of accountability for the wrongful death and murder of Daniel Prude. He was treated inhumanely and without dignity," said Ashley Gantt, a community organizer from Free the People Roc. https://t.co/gSm4ComnYo pic.twitter.com/LLvelRXvBo
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) September 3, 2020
A city investigation into Prude's death was paused when state Attorney General Letitia James began investigating on April 16, Warren said in an earlier press conference on Wednesday with Chief Singletary. All officers involved in the incident have now been suspended with pay and three have been identified in a police report obtained by the family's attorney, RochesterFirst reported. Per the site, the seven officers suspended are: Mark Vaughn, Troy Talladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Mark Magri.
In a statement to CNN, James said:
"The death of Daniel Prude was a tragedy, and I extend my deepest condolences to his family. I share the community's concerns about ensuring a fair and independent investigation into his death and support their right to protest."
On Thursday, Warren acknowledged that Prude's case was mishandled.
“Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police department, our mental health care system, our society and, he was failed by me,” she told press. “Daniel Prude’s death has proven yet again that many of the challenges that we faced in the past are the same challenges that we face today.” Warren also said she had spoke with Police Chief Singletary about how "he needs to do better to truly protect and serve our community, and I believe he will."
Warren went on to say she is enforcing a 24-hour rule, meaning videos from any in-custody deaths will need to be provided to her by police within that time. She's also mandated that the police department create a more extensive plan in place for responding to mental health calls in the next 30 days. Until that time, Warren asked the city to spend $300,000 in order to “double availability of Monroe County FIT Team, or retool the FACIT program to respond to mental health 911 calls."
Warren had earlier resisted the argument that the time it took for the video to become public means the city had an interest in covering up Prude's death.
“I want everyone to understand that at no point in time did we feel that this was something that we wanted not to disclose,” the mayor said during the press conference. “We are precluded from getting involved in it until that agency has completed their investigation.”
Singletary echoed that sentiment. “I know that there is a rhetoric that is out there that this is a cover-up," he said. “This is not a cover-up.” After news of his resignation broke, Singletary said, “As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character,” the police chief said in a statement. He then added, per the Times, “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.”
At the family's press conference, Prude's aunt Letoria Moore paid tribute to her nephew, a father of five. “He was just a bright, loving person, just family-oriented, always there for us when we needed him,” she said, adding that he “never hurt or harmed anybody.” Moore said Prude was still coping with the trauma of the recent deaths of his mother and a brother after previously losing another brother.
“I didn’t know what was the situation, why he was going through what he was going through that night, but I know he didn’t deserve to be killed by the police,” she said.
Dolby-Shields said the case involved a “huge misuse of force,” and disagreed that the officers in question should be allowed to remain on the force.
“How do you watch the video and say what they did is OK?” he said, according to the New York Times. “How do you watch it and say, ‘You guys can still go out on the street and make arrests?'”
How has the Rochester community responded?
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he had not seen the video of Prude's death and declined to comment on the status of James' investigation. However, he said "it is under investigation and has been for months," The New York Times reports. Cuomo also said he had been briefed on the incident and that "The way it was described is very disturbing."
At the Prude family press conference, Ashley Gantt of Free the People ROC made it clear that this incident was part of a disturbing pattern. “The police have shown us over and over again that they are not equipped to handle individuals with mental health concerns. These officers are trained to kill, and not to de-escalate. These officers are trained to ridicule, instead of supporting Mr. Daniel Prude,” she said.
On Wednesday, protesters gathered around Rochester's Public Safety Building. Free the People ROC said some of its organizers were taken into custody. Police shot tear gas and pepper spray into the crowd, NPR reported. Then, the protest moved towards the area in Rochester where Prude was arrested as they called for the officers responsible for his death to be held accountable. Mayor Warren has since said she and the City Council ask that all charges against protesters be dropped immediately.
Free the People Roc organizer asks why she and other activists were arrested before the officers involved with Daniel Prude were. pic.twitter.com/imEGHMLkfC
— Andrew Hyman (@WHEC_AHyman) September 2, 2020
— Christian Garzone (@ccjgarzone) September 2, 2020
A vigil is also located in the area where Prude died:
— JOSH NAVARRO (@JoshNavarroTV) September 3, 2020
How can I help demand justice?
You can contact local and state officials to demand justice for Prude:
Rochester Police Locust Club (union representing city's officers): 585-254-5410 or email email@example.com
Rochester City Mayor Office: 585-428-7045
New York State Attorney General: 585-546-7430 or fill out this form
Rochester Chief of Police: 585-428-6720 or RPD.Chief@CityofRochester.gov
Donate to FTP Free The People Roc's GoFundMe for Prude's family.
Sign the Color of Change petition that demands the police officers involved be charged and that mental health professionals respond to medical calls, not police.
Sign the Change.org petition asking for the firing and arrests of the officers responsible for Prude's death.
This post will continue to be updated as new information is available.
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