Protests broke out in Rochester, N.Y., following the release Wednesday of police body-camera footage of a Black man who died after being injured during his arrest last March.
Daniel Prude was arrested by Rochester Police in the early hours of March 23, after his brother, concerned for Prude’s safety, had called 911. Prude, 41, had left his brother’s house in below-freezing temperatures wearing long johns and a tank top. He had been released from Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital earlier that night after expressing suicidal thoughts.
When Rochester Police officers came upon Prude, he was naked and in distress. Prude had allegedly just gone on a destructive tear, according to police reports, smashing out the windows of several storefronts and ranting about having the coronavirus. A passing tow truck driver who called 911 described Prude as being covered in blood.
The police body-camera footage shows officers, with Tasers drawn, confronting Prude and ordering him to lie down on the road, which was slick from a light snowfall. Prude complied, lying facedown on his stomach, and officers cuffed his hands behind his back.
But in time, the 5-foot-10-inch, 230-pound man grew agitated. He began yelling vulgarities, spitting at officers and tried, unsuccessfully, to stand up. Officers ordered him several times to return to the prone position before placing a white hood over Prude’s head, known as a “spit hood” and intended to protect others from possible infection.
Officers restrained Prude by holding him down by his feet and his head, and applying pressure to Prude’s back with a knee. Prude eventually fell unconscious and stopped breathing, according to police reports. He died a week later.
The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the cause of death as “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delerium due to acute phencyclidine intoxication.”
Family says police are responsible for Prude’s death
The footage was obtained by Prude’s family through a public records request. Attorneys representing the family released it to the public. The family intends to file a wrongful death suit, claiming the actions police used to restrain Prude caused his death.
“I placed the phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched,” said Joe Prude at a press conference yesterday on the steps of City Hall.
Protesters and community leaders charged that police and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren have attempted to sweep Prude’s death under the rug.
At a second press conference at Rochester’s Public Safety Building where police headquarters is located, Warren said an ongoing investigation by the New York attorney general’s office took the matter out of the city’s hands.
“This is not something in our wheelhouse, in our control at this moment in time,” Warren said. “Had it been, this is something we would have talked about months ago.”
“The rhetoric that this is a cover-up, this is not,” said Rochester Chief of Police La’Ron Singletary. “You know we don’t have a problem holding anyone accountable, but the investigation has to take its course.”
Wednesday’s protest began small at the Monroe County Public Safety Building but gained momentum throughout the day. By midafternoon, police fired pepper spray and tear gas into a small crowd outside police headquarters.
The protest later moved to where Prude was arrested, and a large block party gradually formed. Organizers say they plan to occupy the space until the officers involved in Prude’s arrest are fired and the city bars police from responding to mental health calls, among other demands.
“We want the larger community to know this is not something that happens in other cities, in other states, it happens right here in Rochester,” said Ashley Gantt, an organizer with local Black Lives Matter group Free the People Roc.