ABOVE PHOTO: Daniel Prude. Prude, 41, apparently stopped breathing as police in Rochester, N.Y. were restraining him in March 2020 and died when he was taken off life support a week later. On Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, New York Attorney General Letitia James said that she will impanel a grand jury to investigate Prude’s death. (Roth and Roth LLP via AP)
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — New York’s attorney general on Saturday moved to form a grand jury to investigate the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after being hooded and held down by Rochester police earlier this year. “The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement about Prude’s death, which has sparked nightly protests and calls for reform. She said the grand jury would be part of an “exhaustive investigation.” Prude’s death after his brother called for help for his erratic behavior in March has roiled New York’s third-largest city since video of the encounter was made public earlier this week, with protesters demanding more accountability for how it happened and legislation to change how authorities respond to mental health emergencies.
“This is just the beginning,” Ashley Gantt, a protest organizer, said by email after James’ announcement. “We will not be stopped in our quest for truth and justice. It is always necessary to do what’s right.” Another protest was planned for Saturday on the street where Prude was detained.
Advocates for legislation say Prude’s death and the actions of seven now-suspended Rochester police officers — including one who covered the Black man’s head with a “spit hood” during the March encounter — demonstrate how police are ill-equipped to deal with people suffering mental problems.
Having police respond can be a “recipe for disaster,” The National Alliance on Mental Illness said in a statement last Friday. Prude’s death “is yet another harrowing tragedy, but a story not unfamiliar to us,” the advocacy group said. “People in crisis deserve help, not handcuffs.” Stanley Martin, an organizer of Free the People Rochester, told reporters: “We do not need violent workers with guns to respond to mental health crises.” Activists have marched nightly in the city of 210,000 on Lake Ontario since police body camera videos of the encounter with Prude were released by his family last Wednesday. Last Friday night’s protest resulted in 11 arrests, police said. As they had the night before, officers doused activists at police headquarters with a chemical spray to drive them from barricades around the building. As the night wore on, demonstrators were pushed further back, as police fired what appeared to be pepper balls. Fireworks were shot off and a bus stop was set on fire. Prude’s family has said he appeared to be spiraling into crisis in the hours before police handcuffed him on a street and pinned the naked man face down. In the video, police are also seen covering his head with the white “spit hood,” designed to protect police from bodily fluids.
“You’re trying to kill me!” the 41-year-old man is heard saying. He died days later in what the medical examiner ruled was a homicide. A police union has defended the officers involved in the encounter, saying they were strictly following department training and protocols, including using the mesh hood.