Against the backdrop of a national discussion over police brutality and racism, officials said Tuesday that police officers in Rochester, N.Y. who placed a mesh hood on Daniel Prude last year and pressed his face into the pavement would not be charged in his death after a grand jury convened to investigate the case declined to bring an indictment.
Video of the police encounter that preceded his death, as well as police reports released by Mr. Prude’s family and local activists, brought renewed attention in the fall to the case of Mr. Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who died in March after the confrontation.
Mr. Prude was visiting Rochester from Chicago on March 23, when he ran out of his brother’s home, shoeless and shirtless in an apparently erratic state. His brother, Joe, called 911. The police then got a separate call about a naked man running in the street and shouting he had the coronavirus.
The responding officers encountered Mr. Prude, rambling and apparently delirious, and handcuffed him with little trouble. When he began spitting, they covered his head with a hood, and when he tried to get to his feet, they pinned him face down on the ground, one pushing his head to the pavement, the video footage showed.
Mr. Prude stopped breathing after two minutes. Though medics resuscitated him at the scene, he died a week later at a hospital.
Who was Daniel Prude?
Mr. Prude, a father of five children, lived in Chicago, where he grew up in a public housing complex. He, too, was one of five children, two of whom died in tragic incidents that left Mr. Prude rattled.
As an adult, Mr. Prude worked in warehouses and factories on Chicago’s Southwest Side, and friends remembered him working to help find jobs for others in the neighborhood. He lived with his sister, Tameshay, and grew close to her teenage sons.
In September 2018, one of Mr. Prude’s nephews shot and killed himself in the home they shared. Mr. Prude’s friends said that after the nephew’s death, he increasingly used phencyclidine, or PCP, and his behavior became more erratic. Before he traveled to Rochester, his sister had kicked him out of her home, after a series of paranoid outbursts.
Why was Mr. Prude in Rochester?
Mr. Prude arrived in Rochester the day before his death. His brother, Joe, picked him up from a shelter in nearby Buffalo after Mr. Prude had been kicked off a train from Chicago, Joe Prude told the police.
Soon after his arrival, Mr. Prude began behaving erratically, accusing his brother of wanting to kill him. Joe Prude had his brother taken to a hospital for an evaluation, but he was released within hours and returned to Joe Prude’s home.
Mr. Prude appeared to have calmed down. But hours after his return, he asked for a cigarette, and when his brother rose to get one, he bolted out a back door, dressed only in a tank top and long johns. Joe Prude called the police for assistance.
What did video footage show?
Officers found Mr. Prude naked in the street shortly after 3 a.m. They ordered him to lie on his belly, and Officer Mark Vaughn handcuffed him without incident or resistance.
But when Mr. Prude, who had told at least one person he had the coronavirus, grew agitated and began spitting in the street, officers placed a “spit hood” over his head, according to video from the officers’ body cameras.
Mr. Prude began rolling in the road, asking for the hood to be removed. Then, after shouting “give me the gun” to officers, he tried to stand again, the footage showed. Three officers pinned him to the ground, with Officer Vaughn holding his head to the pavement.
Mr. Prude pleaded to be let up, but he seemed to struggle to breathe, according to the footage. His words turned to gurgles, then stopped. After two minutes, Mr. Prude was no longer moving or speaking, and an officer asked, “You good, man?”
When paramedics arrived, Mr. Prude had no heartbeat, and they began CPR. He was revived and taken to a hospital.
How did he die?
Mr. Prude died on March 30 after he was removed from life support, seven days after he was detained.
The Monroe County medical examiner ruled Mr. Prude’s death a homicide that was caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” according to an autopsy report.
The report also said that “excited delirium” and acute intoxication by PCP were contributing factors in his death.
After Mr. Prude’s death, an unofficial police narrative took hold that Mr. Prude had suffered an overdose while in police custody. The Rochester Police Department offered no public comment in Mr. Prude’s death and for months treated it as an overdose.
An internal investigation by the Police Department in late April quickly cleared the officers involved of wrongdoing.
Since the release of the footage in September, which was obtained through a public records request, Mr. Prude’s family has accused officials of covering up his death to protect the police officers involved.
What happened to the officers involved?
Seven officers involved in the encounter with Mr. Prude were suspended on Sept. 3, the day after the release of the body camera footage and more than five months after Mr. Prude’s death. Two days after that, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, set up a grand jury in the fall to consider evidence in Mr. Prude’s death.
On Feb. 23, Ms. James announced that the grand jury would not bring an indictment against the officers. In similar cases around the country, criminal charges against police officers have been rare as grand juries have often declined to indict police following deadly interactions with Black people.
“I know that the Prude family and the Rochester community and communities across the country will be rightfully disappointed by this outcome,” Ms. James said at the time. “We sought a different outcome than the one the grand jury handed us today.”
Ms. James said that her office would pursue several policing reforms aimed in part at addressing barriers to “holding officers accountable who use deadly force without justification,” including raising standards on when the use of force by officers is deemed acceptable.
The case had already upended the political order in Rochester last year and thrown its police department into turmoil. On Sept. 8, Rochester’s police chief, La’Ron D. Singletary, his deputy and a commander all resigned. Two other of the department’s highest-ranking officials were demoted.
Mr. Singletary had denied any wrongdoing on the part of the officers. But documents in a 323-page internal review showed how he and other Rochester officials worked to keep footage of the encounter with Mr. Prude out of public view.
Rochester’s mayor, Lovely Warren, released an internal review of the handling of Mr. Prude’s death and abruptly fired Mr. Singletary two weeks ahead of his planned resignation date. (Ms. Warren, a Democrat, was indicted on Oct. 2 on two unrelated felony campaign finance charges, adding to the city’s political turmoil.)
Tameshay Prude, Mr. Prude’s sister, has also filed a civil rights lawsuit in United States District Court against the City of Rochester, Mr. Singletary and the officers involved in the encounter, including Officer Vaughn.