No charges will be filed against the Rochester officers involved in the death of 41-year-old Daniel Prude, an unarmed Black man who was killed during a brutal police encounter in March 2020.
Prude was suffering a mental health episode and drug trip when his brother called 911 for help. Officers ended up pinning a naked Prude down in the street and placing a mesh hood over his head. He later died of asphyxiation. When bodycam footage of the encounter was released in August 2020, it sparked a nationwide uproar.
“We concluded that there was sufficient evidence surrounding Mr. Prude’s death to warrant presenting the case to a grand jury, and we presented the most comprehensive case possible,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement following the months-long investigation.
James acknowledged Prude was in the throes of a mental health crisis and did not receive the care he needed during that time, adding that the policing system failed Prude.
“Serious reform is needed, not only at the Rochester Police Department but to our criminal justice system as a whole,” she said.
Still, she told people to respect the grand jury’s decision.
The U.S. Department of Justice also released a statement saying it was going to review the New York State Attorney General report to see if federal action is required. The Monroe County Office of the Medical Examiner has Prude’s death listed as a homicide.
Several members of the Rochester Police Department’s command staff either resigned or were fired in the wake of Prude’s death. On Sept. 14, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren fired police chief La’Ron Singletary in response to Prude’s death, even after he announced his own resignation at the end of the month. Warren published a 10-page report that also called for federal investigations and citywide reforms, acknowledging “systemic failures” and stating that the city should’ve been more transparent about the death when it happened in March.
In the days after the video of Prude’s arrest was released, James announced she’d put together a grand jury as part of the investigation.
Prude’s arrest took place in the early hours of March 23, 2020. He had just been released from the hospital after expressing suicidal thoughts and went to his brother’s house, which he later left. His brother, Joe Prude, called the police for help. Officers found him naked outside in below-freezing temperatures acting irrationally, allegedly smashing store windows and saying he had the coronavirus.
The footage shows officers confronting Prude with stun guns, ordering him to lie down on the icy road and cuffing his hands behind his back. Footage also shows Prude beginning to yell and spit at officers, which prompted them to place a mesh hood (called a “spit hood”) over his head. They restrained Prude by pinning down his head and kneeling on his back. He lost consciousness and died a week later in the hospital when he was taken off life support.
“I didn’t call them to come help my brother die,” Joe Prude, Daniel’s brother, told NPR in a Sept. 4 episode of Morning Edition. “I called them to come help me get my brother some help.”
People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to die in encounters with law enforcement than neurotypical people, despite the vast majority of people with mental illness not posing threats to others. Additionally, police violence is a leading cause of death among Black men in the U.S.
Talks about police being unfit to handle mental health crises have been in the news lately. The ACLU has outlined community alternatives to policing for mental health crises, and cities across the country have crisis programs or pilot programs in effect.
Rochester recently launched a “Person in Crisis” program designed to have mental health professionals be the first responders in mental health calls, but the police department was in headlines again recently after bodycam footage showed police handcuffing and pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl while she was in the middle of a mental health crisis. The Person in Crisis team was not dispatched in this instance, reportedly because the call came in as a family distress call and not a mental health emergency.
Protesters took to the streets Tuesday night in Rochester, New York after the grand jury announced that no officers involved in Prude’s death would be charged. The protests ended at 11:45 p.m., but the activists vowed to return, according to the Democrat & Chronicle.
The Democrat & Chronicle reported Stanley Martin, an organizer from the advocacy group, “Free the People” and a candidate for city council spoke first on Tuesday night as the crowd gathered.
“White supremacy protects white supremacists,” Martin said. “[The system] is not meant to protect us. The system did exactly what it was meant to do. We keep marching; we keep fighting; we keep reimaging what the future looks like … The future does not include the RPD and I know that for a fact.”