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‘Coldblooded murder’: Family calls for charges after mentally ill Black man dies of asphyxiation following police incident

A Rochester police officer puts a "spit hood" over the head of Daniel T. Prude on March 23 in Rochester, N.Y. (Rochester Police/Roth LLP/AP)
A Rochester police officer puts a “spit hood” over the head of Daniel T. Prude on March 23 in Rochester, N.Y. (Rochester Police/Roth LLP/AP) (AP)

By Jaclyn PeiserSeptember 3, 2020 at 4:53 a.m. CDT

As one police officer places his hands on the head of a naked, handcuffed Black man lying facedown on a damp road in Rochester, N.Y., another puts his knee on the man’s back. Earlier, police had covered his head with a white “spit hood,” designed to protect police from bodily fluids.

“You’re trying to kill me!” the 41-year-old man cried in a video of the March incident, first reported by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Days later, Daniel T. Prude died at a hospital — a homicide, the medical examiner eventually ruled, caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”

On Wednesday, Prude’s family for the first time released body-camera footage of the incident and demanded that the officers be held accountable. Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, said at a news conference Wednesday that he called Rochester police the night of the incident to help find his brother, who was mentally ill, and was shocked to learn that the outcome had led to his brother’s death.ADADVERTISING

“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe Prude said at the news conference.

The incident, which took place two months before George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police, is under investigation by the New York State Attorney General’s Office after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) issued an executive order in July for the inquiry. The video prompted protests in Rochester on Wednesday night, leading to several arrests and the police using pepper spray on about 100 demonstrators. Subtitle Settings Font Font Size Font Edge Font Color Background

Prude, who lived in Chicago, took a train to Rochester to visit his brother on March 22, the Associated Press reported. But officials on the train kicked him off in Depew, N.Y., about an hour southwest of Rochester. Police took Prude to a hospital for a medical evaluation about 7 p.m., saying he expressed suicidal thoughts. His brother said that Prude had been trying to deal with trauma from losing his mother and two brothers, the AP reported. Prude stayed in the hospital for a few hours.AD

About 3 a.m. on March 23, Joe Prude called the police saying that his brother had left the house, according to a police report reviewed by the AP. Police soon found Prude walking around naked.

The body-cam video shows an officer ordering him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Prude complies.

“Chill out, man, don’t move,” the officer can be heard saying.

“Yes, sir,” Prude replies.

But Prude soon grows agitated, yelling at police to give him their gun. An officer then puts the white “spit hood” over his head, according to the body-cam footage. The use of spit hoods has been criticized recently in parts of the United States and in the United Kingdom, because they have been connected to deaths in custody.

Prude then starts rolling on the ground, begging the officers to remove the hood. The officers surround him as one places his hands on Prude’s head and another puts his knee on Prude’s back to hold him down.AD

After about a minute, the video shows Prude whimpering and babbling softly.

“Stop spitting,” the officer holding down Prude’s head can be heard saying.

One angle in the video shows what appears to be an officer putting all his weight on Prude’s head. His legs are spread out behind him as he balances on the tops of his feet, similar to a plank position, forcing all his weight to his arms.

Prude soon goes quiet and the paramedics arrive. The officers then remove the handcuffs and the hood, and a medic does CPR. Eleven minutes after the officers first encountered Prude, he is taken to a hospital unresponsive, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.

In addition to ruling his death a homicide by asphyxiation, the medical examiner’s report noted that contributing factors included acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, the AP reported.AD

“To see that video, and see my father in a state of helplessness — where he complying and wasn’t giving anybody a hard time and was in need of help — it’s devastating,” Tashyra Prude, Daniel Prude’s 18-year-old daughter, said at a news conference Thursday.

In the news conference Wednesday, Joe Prude accused the police and city of a “coverup.” But Rochester Police Chief La’Ron D. Singletary denied that, noting how New York State Attorney General Letitia James’s investigation is ongoing.

“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, ” James said in a statement. “We will work tirelessly to provide the transparency and accountability that all our communities deserve.”AD

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (D) said the attorney general took over the case because she wanted the investigation to be unbiased.

“Unfortunately, it has taken some time and I sympathize with the family because I, too, when I saw the video, was very disturbed,” Warren said at a news conference. “This is not something that’s in our wheelhouse, in our control at this moment in time. And had it been, then, for me, this would have been something that we would have talked about months ago.”

Protesters gathered outside the city’s public safety building Wednesday evening and continued to demonstrate as the sun went down.

Ashley Gantt, a community organizer for Free the People Roc, a local movement focused on defunding the police, said at the news conference with Prude’s family that police have continuously failed to help people with mental health problems.

“These officers are trained to kill, and not to de-escalate,” Gantt said. “These officers are trained to ridicule, instead of supporting Mr. Daniel Prude.”

Joe Prude echoed that sentiment, saying that his brother’s death was “coldblooded murder.”