What to Know
- Daniel Prude, 41, ran naked through the streets of Rochester and died of asphyxiation after a group of police officers put a hood over his head and pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes, according to video
- The father of five children had been taken into custody for a mental health evaluation about eight hours before the encounter that led to his death.
- His death received no public attention until Wednesday, when his family held a news conference and released police body camera video and written reports they obtained through a public records request
The man who suffocated after police in New York's third-largest city put a “spit hood” over his head was the loving father of five adult children, had some mental health issues but was harmless, and had just arrived in Rochester for a visit with his brother, his aunt said.
Daniel Prude, 41, known to his big Chicago-based family by the nickname “Rell,” died March 30 after he was taken off life support, seven days after the encounter with police in Rochester. Prude was from Chicago and had just arrived in Rochester for a visit with his brother.
Prude, who is Black, had been taken into custody for a mental health evaluation about eight hours before the encounter that led to his death. His death received no public attention until Wednesday, when his family held a news conference and released police body camera video and written reports they obtained through a public records request.
Protesters calling for racial justice were once again ignited by Prude's death. Several demonstrations broke out across the country Thursday including one in Rochester where Prude was arrested and another in New York City, each led to violent clashes with police and with counterprotesters.
As the rally in Times Square was coming to a close, a black Taurus sedan came careening down West 46th Street and drove into protesters crossing the street. The NYPD said no one was hurt and that it was reviewing video of the incident.
Earlier in the evening, police surrounded a small group of counterprotesters wearing "Keep America Great" hats, and the groups exchanged heated words. The driver in the sedan was later found to be a part of the group of counterprotesters, police said.
With the incident caught on camera, people started speculating whether the vehicle was an unmarked police car because it had a push bar, also commonly known as a bullbar or push bumper, that's found on NYPD vehicles and other SUVs. Police denied the accusation in a tweet, saying "This auto is NOT an NYPD vehicle." The NYPD added that no complaints have been filed in the incident and it is looking for any injured victims to come forward.
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In Rochester, a city of 210,000 on Lake Ontario that is best known for being the longtime home of the photography company Kodak, protesters initially gathered Wednesday evening outside the police headquarters building. Free the People ROC said several of its organizers were briefly taken into custody after they entered the building while Warren spoke.
They were released on appearance tickets, said Iman Abid, regional director of the NYCLU, who was among those taken into custody. Demonstrators also gathered at the spot where Prude died, chanting, dancing and praying. They stayed late into the night. A total of eight people were arrested, police said Friday morning.
Prude had been traumatized by the deaths of his mother and a brother in recent years, having lost another brother before that, his aunt Letoria Moore said in an interview. In his final months, he’d been going back and forth between his Chicago home and his brother’s place in Rochester because he wanted to be close to him, she said.
She knew her nephew had some psychological issues, she said. Still, when he called two days before his death, “he was the normal Rell that I knew,” Moore said.
“I didn’t know what was the situation, why he was going through what he was going through that night, but I know he didn’t deserve to be killed by the police,” she said.
Prude ran naked through the streets of Rochester and died after a group of police officers put the hood over his head and pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes, according to video and records.
One officer wrote that the cops put the white spit hood on Prude because he was spitting continuously in the direction of officers and they were concerned about coronavirus. They say Prude had told them he had COVID-19.
The hoods are intended to protect officers from a detainee’s saliva and have been scrutinized as a factor in the deaths of several prisoners in the U.S. and other countries in recent years.
The city halted its investigation into Prude’s death when state Attorney General Letitia James’ office began its own investigation in April.
"As my office continues our investigation into the death of Daniel Prude, it is important for the Rochester community to know that we are working diligently to ensure a swift but thorough investigation," James said in a statement. "At this time, we have not asked the city of Rochester nor the Rochester Police Department (RPD) to refrain from launching an internal investigation. In fact, we encourage both Rochester and the RPD to proceed with an internal review simultaneous to our investigation. The Prude family and the greater Rochester community deserve answers, and we will continue to work around the clock to provide them.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo also issued a statement regarding Prude's death saying in part: "For the sake of Mr. Prude's family and the greater Rochester community I am calling for this case to be concluded as expeditiously as possible. For that to occur we need the full and timely cooperation of the Rochester Police Department and I trust it will fully comply."
Under New York law, deaths of unarmed people in police custody are often turned over to the attorney general’s office, rather than handled by local officials. The state investigation continues.
“I want everyone to understand that at no point in time did we feel that this was something that we wanted not to disclose,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said at a news briefing. “We are precluded from getting involved in it until that agency has completed their investigation.”
Activists are demanding that the officers involved be prosecuted on murder charges and that they be removed from the department while the investigation proceeds. Mayor Warren said that all officers involved in the incident had been suspended.
"I have never shied away from taking action and holding our police, or anyone, who fails in their duties to our community accountable," Warren said in a release, in which she said Prude was "failed" by the police and apologized to his family. "That it why I am suspending the officers in question today against the advice of my counsel, and I urge the N.Y. State Attorney General to complete her investigation. I understand that the union may sue me for taking these officers off our streets. They should feel free to do so."
“The police have shown us over and over again that they are not equipped to handle individuals with mental health concerns. These officers are trained to kill, and not to deescalate. These officers are trained to ridicule, instead of supporting Mr. Daniel Prude,” Ashley Gantt of Free the People ROC said at the news conference with Prude’s family.
Calls to the union representing Rochester police officers, and to the organization’s attorney, went unanswered Wednesday.
The videos show Prude, who had taken off his clothes, complying when police ask him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Prude is agitated and shouting as he sits on the pavement in handcuffs for a few moments as a light snow falls. “Give me your gun, I need it,” he shouts.
Then, they put the hood over his head, and Prude demands they remove it.
Then the officers slam Prude's head into the street. One officer, who is white, holds his head down against the pavement with both hands, saying “calm down” and “stop spitting.” Another officer places a knee on his back.
“Trying to kill me!” Prude says, his voice becoming muffled and anguished under the hood.
“OK, stop. I need it. I need it,” the prone man begs before his shouts turn to whimpers and grunts.
The officers appear to become concerned after he stops moving, falls silent and they notice water coming out of Prude’s mouth.
“My man. You puking?” one says.
One officer notes that he’s been out, naked, in the street for some time. Another remarks, “He feels pretty cold.”
His head had been held down by an officer for just over two minutes, the video shows.
The officers then remove the hood and his handcuffs and medics can then be seen performing CPR before he is loaded into an ambulance.
A medical examiner concluded that 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. No criminal wrongdoing has yet been determined, however.
The police chief has declined to comment on the cause of death due to two ongoing investigations -- one internal, one by the New York attorney general's office -- as well as a potential lawsuit.
Rochester police officers took Prude into custody for a mental health evaluation around 7 p.m. on March 22 for suicidal thoughts -- about eight hours before the encounter that led to his death. But his brother Joe Prude said he was only at the hospital for a few hours, according to the reports.
Police responded again after Joe Prude called 911 at about 3 a.m. to report that his brother had left his house.
“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. “How did you see him and not directly say, ‘The man is defenseless, buck naked on the ground. He’s cuffed up already. Come on.’ How many more brothers gotta die for society to understand that this needs to stop?”
The deadly encounter happened two months before the death of George Floyd in Minnesota prompted nationwide demonstrations. Floyd died when an officer put his knee on his neck for several minutes during an arrest.