Rochester, NY – A grand jury on Tuesday refused to indict seven Rochester police officers in connection with the death of 41-year-old Daniel Prude and the city is bracing for violent protests.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said she was “extremely disappointed” that the Rochester police officers would not face any charges when she made the announcement on Feb. 23 from Aenon Missionary Baptist Church, WROC reported.
“A grand jury has voted not to indict any police officer on charges related to the death of Daniel Prude,” James told reporters. “My office concluded there was sufficient evidence surrounding Mr. Prude’s death to present the case to a grand jury, and we presented the most comprehensive case possible.”
“Daniel Prude was in the throes of a mental health crisis and what he needed was compassion, care, and help from trained professionals. Tragically, he received none of those things,” the attorney general said.
“While I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community, and communities across the country will rightfully be disappointed by this outcome. But ultimately we have to respect the decision,” she said.
Then she called for criminal justice reform measures and more accountability for police, WROC reported.
“The current laws on deadly force have created a system that utterly and abjectly failed Mr. Prude and so many others before him,” James said. “Serious reform is needed, not only at the Rochester Police Department, but to our criminal justice system as a whole. I will be pursuing a multifaceted approach to address the very issues that have prevented us from holding officers accountable when they improperly use deadly force. I am committed to effecting the change that is so desperately needed, and I will be unshakeable in my efforts to see it through.”
The incident occurred on the evening of March 23, 2020 while Prude was visiting his brother’s home in Rochester, The New York Times reported.
Prude’s brother called 911 and said he thought his brother was having a mental breakdown.
Bodycam video showed that when police arrived on the scene, Prude was standing naked in the middle of the street, bleeding from injuries he sustained when he smashed car windows a few minutes earlier.
The video showed that Prude followed police commands to lay on his stomach and put his hands behind his back so they could put handcuffs on him.
But when they sat him up, he began spitting at the officers, the video showed.
Prude had told passersby that he had coronavirus, so when he started spitting at the police, the officers put a spit bag over his head, The New York Times reported.
Then he tried to get up so officers took him to the ground and held his head to the pavement for two minutes, the video showed.
Prude’s voice became muffled in the video and after a moment, his speech became slurred and nonsensical.
When Prude stopped moving and police suspected he was in medical distress, the video showed they turned him over to render aid but discovered that none of the seven officers on the scene had a handcuff key to use to release him.
Paramedics arrived and resuscitated Prude and transported him to the hospital, the video showed.
When he died a week later, the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide due to asphyxiation and drugs, The New York Times reported.
The details and circumstances surrounding Prude’s death in the custody of the Rochester police didn’t become public until the family started asking more questions after the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police three months later.
When the Rochester Police Department’s records of the internal review of the incident became public, some of the documents included appeared to show that police officials had tried to avoid released of the bodycam videos, The New York Times reported.
“We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions and conflate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationally,” a deputy police chief wrote in an email to the police chief on June 4.
The email advised then-Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary not to release the bodycam video to the public, The New York Times reported.
“That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blowback in this community as a result,” the deputy chief wrote.
Chief Singletary replied “I totally agree” just a couple minutes later, The New York Times reported.
Rochester police had represented Prude’s death to the public as a fatal drug overdose and his autopsy confirmed that he had PCP in his system when he died.
So when the bodycam video was released in September of 2020 that showed Prude’s altercation with police that preceded him losing consciousness, the community erupted and violent riots rocked the city.
Activists accused the police department of a cover-up and wanted Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren to fire the police chief and demanded prosecutors charge the seven police officers involved.
On Sept. 8, 2020, Chief Singletary and Rochester Police Deputy Chief Joseph Morabito and the rest of the entire command staff announced their retirements at the end of the month shortly before the Rochester City Council met to discuss the police department’s handling of the violent riots, the New York Post reported.
Warren initially defended her police officials, refused to fire the chief, and warned that more police officers might be resigning.
But less than a week later, the mayor reversed her position and fired Chief Singletary.
She also suspended two more city employees – Communications Director Justin Roj and Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin – without pay for 30 days after the initial management review into Prude’s death, the Associated Press reported. That’s when the New York attorney general stepped in to review the case.
James had the authority to go after the Rochester police officers because of a 2015 executive order that gave the attorney general the authority to investigate and prosecute law enforcement officers when an unarmed civilian is killed, The New York Times reported.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed that into law after a New York City grand jury declined to indict a former New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner.
Protest in Rochester tonight after it was announced that the officers involved in the incident that ended Daniel Prude's life would not be charged
Protest starts on 753 Jefferson Ave at 7pm pic.twitter.com/c1yS1rLF1K
— 🐺FVCK ©️ommies🐺 (@fvckcommies) February 23, 2021
A closer view: pic.twitter.com/ds5FIoetCn
— Will Cleveland (@WillCleveland13) February 23, 2021
The city was preparing for violent protests on Tuesday night after the attorney general’s announcement, and had erected concrete barriers around the Rochester Public Safety Building.
City Councilmembers sent a letter to the city’s interim police chief on Tuesday afternoon that called for an immediate ban on the use of chemical agents during protests and asked the police department to establish clear “rules of engagement” ahead of the expected chaos, The New York Times reported.