Seven police officers involved in the suffocation death of Daniel Prude last spring in Rochester, N.Y., were suspended Thursday by the city’s mayor, who said she was misled for months about the circumstances of the fatal encounter.
Prude, 41, who was Black, died when he was taken off life support March 30. That was seven days after officers who encountered him running naked through the street put a hood over his head to stop him from spitting, then held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced the suspensions at a news conference amid criticism that the city kept quiet about Prude’s death for months.
Prude “was failed by the police department, our mental health care system, our society, and he was failed by me,” Warren said.
The mayor said she only became aware that Prude’s death involved the use of force on Aug. 4, and that police Chief La’Ron Singletary initially portrayed it as a drug overdose, which is “entirely different” than what she witnessed in body camera video.
Warren said she told the chief she was “deeply, personally and professionally disappointed” in his failure to accurately inform her what happened to Prude.
WATCH | Mayor describes her reaction to video of Prude’s arrest:
She said the suspended officers would still be paid because of contract rules.
Warren did not announce any action against Singletary. Approached at a community event, the chief declined to comment but said he would speak later.
Messages left with the union representing Rochester police officers were not immediately returned Thursday.
Prude’s death happened just as the coronavirus was raging out of control in New York and received no public attention at the time.
Prude’s family held a news conference on Wednesday and released police body camera video obtained through a public records request that captured his fatal interaction with the officers.
Prude had been taken to a Rochester hospital for a mental health evaluation about eight hours before the encounter that led to his death. He was released back into the care of his family and then abruptly ran into the street and took off his clothes.
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, she said 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.
Moore said she knew her nephew had some psychological issues, but when he called two days before his death, “he was the normal Rell that I knew.”
“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.
When officers found Prude, they handcuffed him, put a hood over his head because he had been spitting and then pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes, police video shows.
The hoods are intended to protect officers from saliva and have been scrutinized as a factor in the deaths of several detainees in recent years.
The videos show Prude, his voice muffled by the hood, begging the white officer pushing his head down to let him go. As the officer, Mark Vaughn, says, “Calm down” and “Stop spitting,” Prude’s shouts became anguished whimpers and grunts.
“OK, stop. I need it. I need it,” he says.
The officer lets Prude go after about two minutes when he stops moving and falls silent. Officers then notice water coming out of Prude’s mouth and call over waiting medics, who start CPR.
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 in his death.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office took over the investigation of the death in April. It is ongoing.
“The Prude family and the greater Rochester community deserve answers, and we will continue to work around the clock to provide them,” James said in a statement on Thursday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement that he watched video of Prude’s fatal encounter with police on Wednesday night.
“What I saw was deeply disturbing and I demand answers,” he said, adding that he was confident James’s investigation would be thorough. “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.”
Second night of demonstrations
Demonstrators came out on Thursday evening for a second straight night, about 200 of them gathering near the street corner where Prude was restrained by police. Some activists felt suspending the officers was not enough.
“This is a coverup — and honestly, our mayor, our police chief, they should be brought up on criminal charges,” said Justin Morris.
Earlier Thursday, Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, said all his younger brother wanted that morning was “somebody to grab him up and help him.”
“No matter how you look at the situation, the man was absolutely in his birthday suit, handcuffed behind his back, on the ground already, in freezing weather,” Joe Prude said. “How could you sit here and label that man a threat to you when he’s already cuffed up? How could you throw a bag over his head?