Police officers who put a hood over the head of a mentally distraught Black man, then pressed his body against the pavement until he stopped breathing will not face criminal charges after a grand jury declined to indict them, the state’s attorney general announced Tuesday.
Daniel Prude, 41, died last March, several days after his encounter with police in Rochester, New York. Police initially described his death as a drug overdose. It went mostly unnoticed. But nightly protests erupted after body camera video was released nearly six months later following pressure from Prude’s family.
Read more: Daniel Prude death: New York AG promises to expedite release of police body cam footage
Attorney General Letitia 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 travelled 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 colour: 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 behaviour, was “the root cause” of his death.
Calls were made to the officers’ attorneys. Matthew Rich, who represents four officers, said “we’re still taking it in” and that the attorneys would speak to the press later.
Read more: Rochester police pressed city officials to keep Daniel Prude video secret: emails
Hundreds of protesters gathered Tuesday evening on the street where Prude was detained.
The March 23 video of Prude’s fatal encounter with officers was initially withheld by police in part because of concerns it would inflame street demonstrations occurring nationwide over George Floyd’s death.
Ultimately released Sept. 4, it showed officers placing a mesh bag over Prude’s head to stop him from spitting after they detained him for running naked through the streets. Prude had been hospitalized for odd behaviour a day earlier, but he wasn’t admitted. His family called police because they were concerned about Prude’s safety after he bolted from the house.
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One officer pushed his face against the ground, while another officer pressed a knee to his back. The officers held him down for about two minutes until he fell unconscious. He was taken off life support a week later.
“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.”
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, according to Rochester police chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.
The Rochester police union said in a statement it would not immediately comment, pending the conclusion of an internal investigation.
Read more: Rochester mayor vows to honor Daniel Prude, says she will ‘not let his death be in vain’