UPDATE: The seven Rochester police officers involved in the suffocation of Daniel Prude have been suspended, The New York Times reports. Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced the decision Wednesday, September 3rd, over five months after Prude’s death, and just one day after footage of Prude’s altercation with police was publicly released. In body cam footage, officers could be seen placing a hood over Prude’s head and holding him against the ground for several minutes, suffocating him. Prude died seven days later after being taken off life support.
Video has emerged of police officers in Rochester, New York placing a hood over a black man, Daniel Prude, kneeling on him, and pressing his face into the pavement for several minutes, suffocating him.
Per the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, the altercation took place March 23rd, and Prude, 41, died seven days later, March 30th, after being taken off life support. Details became public Wednesday, September 3rd, when Prude’s family held a news conference and released the footage of the incident taken from police body cameras, which they obtained through an open-records request.
Prude, who is from Chicago, was visiting his brother, Joe Prude, when the incident took place. Joe called 911 the night of the 23rd after Prude ran out of his home wearing only long underwear, a tank top and socks. He was later seen on a nearby street, having reportedly removed his clothes. The day before, March 22nd, Prude had been taken to a hospital after he began experiencing mental health problems.
Both Joe and other witnesses, who saw Prude on the street, called 911. When police arrived, they handcuffed Prude and ordered him to lie on the ground and place his hands behind his back, which he did (the officers were instructed to make a “mental-health arrest,” as opposed to a criminal arrest, after which they’d transport Prude to a facility for emergency treatment). While on the ground, as the body camera footage shows, Prude proceeded to fidget, shout and sometimes spit, though he never got up or tried to confront the police officers.
Prude’s spitting, however, prompted the officers to cover his head with a “spit hood”; earlier, Prude had allegedly claimed he had the novel coronavirus. Police did not cover Prude’s naked body with anything else, and he remained on the ground, handcuffed for several minutes until he began trying to scoot around and get to his feet while yelling, “Gimme that gun, gimme that gun, I mean it!”
At this point, Police officers pushed Prude over, and as multiple officers held him down, Prude can be heard saying, “You’re trying to kill me!” One officer, identified as Mark Vaughn, pressed the side of Prude’s head into the pavement and held him there for just over two minutes, during which time Prude’s shouts grew fainter. Eventually, Officer Vaughn lifted his hands, asked Prude “You good now?” though Prude did not respond. Officer Vaughn then placed one hand back on Prude’s head for another 45 seconds.
It’s unclear when the officers recognized that Prude was no longer breathing. An EMT said he only realized Prude wasn’t breathing after he instructed officers to roll Prude onto his back. Prude was eventually placed in an ambulance, where his heartbeat was restored, though he was soon declared brain dead due to a prolonged lack of oxygen.
The Monroe County Medical Examiner, Dr. Nadia Granger, ruled Prude’s death a homicide by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” A toxicology test found a low level of phencyclidine, or PCP, in Prude’s system, and the autopsy report named “acute phencyclidine intoxication” as a complicating factor in his death, along with a few other health conditions, including lung diseases, heart inflammation, and brain injury.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Joe Prude called his brother’s death a “cold-blooded murder,” while the family demanded the officers involved be fired and charged with homicide (all are still on the force). Joe Prude added, “I placed a phone call to get my brother help, not to have my brother lynched. How many more brothers have to die before society understands this needs to stop?”
New York Attorney General Letitia James called Prude’s death a “tragedy.” James’ office opened an investigation into Prude’s death back in July, after Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to so. Per The New York Times, Cuomo said Wednesday that he had not watched body camera video, but said, “The way it was described is very disturbing.”
Following the Prude family’s press conference Wednesday, protesters gathered in Rochester outside the police station and marched to the street where Prude was detained. At points, police appeared to spray tear gas or pepper spray at protesters. Nine people were arrested, and all will face misdemeanor charges were issued appearance tickets.