Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of Rochester, N.Y. on Tuesday night to protest the news that a grand jury had decided not to indict seven officers involved in the March 2020 arrest of Daniel Prude, whose death made headlines after video showed he was handcuffed naked and seated on the street while his head was covered with a spit hood.
Demonstrators gathered at approximately 7:30 p.m. in the area where Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, was confronted and handcuffed by police just shy of one year earlier, the Democrat & Chronicle reported. As the night progressed, protesters reportedly chanted and defied police orders to avoid the area of Child and Maple streets, where a police station is located.
Photos posted on social media show protesters – some wearing helmets and carrying umbrellas – climbed the barriers erected along Child Street and were greeted by officers.
As the demonstration continued, police announced in a second tweet of the night that RPD “supports the rights of our citizens to peacefully protest as the U.S. Constitution allows.”
The tweet added: “We ask that anyone wishing to peacefully protest refrain from partaking in or being involved with anyone that acts or commits acts of violence.”
Demonstrators reportedly forged ahead, walking against traffic along Interstate 490, and made their way to the Rochester Public Safety Building, where protesters frequently gathered – sometimes wearing scant clothing to mimic the circumstances of Prude’s arrest – during the summer months into the fall.
Demonstrators began hopping over metal barricades set up in front of the building, helping each other climb over as they made their way to the front doors.
The unrest wrapped at approximately 11:45 p.m., the report states. The protesters were largely non-violent and police did not make any arrests over the course of the night, according to the Democrat & Chronicle.
Earlier Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the news that a grand jury declined to indict the six officers and one sergeant for their handling of the case last March.
Prude died just days after his encounter with the officers, and police had reportedly described his death as a drug overdose. But police body camera video that came to light in September showed Prude appeared to have been suffering from a mental episode, possibly induced by drugs.
The footage further showed Prude naked and sitting in the street wearing a mesh covering, known as a spit hood, over his head. Over the course of the interaction, one officer can be seen pressing his knee to Prude’s back while another pushes his face to the pavement. They allegedly held him down for approximately two minutes, but they later realized he didn’t have a pulse and began CPR.
He died on March 30. A medical examiner concluded that Daniel Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report lists excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, as contributing factors.
James, whose office took over the investigation, said her office had “presented the strongest case possible” to the grand jury, but couldn’t persuade it that the officers had committed a crime.
“I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community and communities across the country will rightfully be disappointed by this outcome,” said James, who traveled to Rochester to announce the grand jury’s decision at a church near where Prude was fatally injured.
She said she was bound to respect the grand jury’s decision, but she also condemned a system that she said had “frustrated efforts to hold law enforcement officers accountable for the unjustified killing of African Americans.”
“What binds these cases is a tragic loss of life in circumstances in which the death could have been avoided,” said James, who, like the mayor of Rochester and the city’s current and former police chiefs, is Black.
“One recognizes the influences of race, from the slave codes to Jim Crow, to lynching, to the war on crime, to the overincarceration of people of color: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. And now Daniel Prude,” she said.
Lawyers for the seven police officers suspended over Prude’s death have said the officers were strictly following their training that night, employing a restraining technique known as “segmenting.” They claimed Prude’s use of PCP, which caused irrational behavior, was “the root cause” of his death.
Officers Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris and Mark Vaughn, along with Sgt. Michael Magri, were suspended after Prude’s death became public. The officers will remain on leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, Rochester police chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan told The Associated Press.
“The system failed Daniel Prude again,” Prude family lawyer Elliot Shields said of the grand jury’s decision. “It failed him on March 22 when he was released from the hospital. It failed him on the night of March 23 when the police used deadly force against him. And it failed him again today.”
Shields said Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, was “heartbroken.”
Prude was from Chicago and traveled to Rochester on March 22 to visit his brother. According to a previously released internal affairs investigator’s report, Prude was kicked off the train before it arrived in Rochester for “his unruly behavior.”
Hours later, he was taken to the hospital before going to his brother’s home. Around 3 a.m. on March 23, he ran out of his brother’s back door.
Prude was handcuffed by police around 3:20 a.m. after his brother called police to take him back to the hospital, where he had been hours earlier.
“At around 3 a.m. Daniel was acting very strange again – he ran out my back door wearing only a tank top and some long johns,” Joe Prude wrote in a supporting deposition later released in the trove of documents. “I called the police again so they could find him and take him back to the hospital.”
Police located Daniel Prude soon after he allegedly went to a phone store where police believe he “threw a cinder block through the store window before being spotted by a tow truck driver.” Police said the tow truck driver described Prude as being naked, covered in blood, and said he had told the driver he had the novel coronavirus.
What happened next – the video that sent shockwaves across the upstate New York city and the nation – also used turmoil between former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and Mayor Lovely Warren.
Singletary, who was fired in connection with the department’s response to Daniel Prude’s death, said in December that Warren pushed him to lie about her handling of the investigation – and claimed he was ousted when he refused to do so.
That same month, the city’s public integrity office issued a report concluding that it found no ethical lapses in the way Warren or senior staff responded to Prude’s death.
Rochester has also recently come under fire after a video circulated showing local officers pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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