Newly released footage from Rochester, New York, shows police placing a hood over the head of a Black man before pinning him to the ground for two minutes. Soon after the incident, the man, Daniel Prude, was pronounced brain dead. Prude’s death has already inspired protests across Rochester and seems likely to draw national attention in the coming days as part of the nationwide reckoning with aggressive policing. The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports that several people protesting Prude’s death were arrested on Wednesday.
Prude’s encounter with police occurred on March 23, but the incident only came to public attention on Wednesday after his family — alongside a group of activists and lawyers — held a news conference during which they unveiled the footage and called for murder charges to be brought against the three officers involved. Prude died on March 30, after he was taken off life support.
The family said that Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, called the police because Daniel — a 41-year-old father of five who was visiting Joe from Chicago — was experiencing a mental-health episode. Daniel Prude had been hospitalized the previous day for problems related to his mental health. That same night, a truck driver also called 911 to report that Prude had attempted to break into a car while claiming to have the coronavirus.
Body-camera footage shows Prude naked in the street when cops respond at 3:16 a.m. When a cop points a taser at Prude and tells him to get on the ground at the beginning of the encounter, Prude complies. Cops then place what is known as a “spit hood” over Prude’s head to prevent him from spitting on them. March 23 was relatively early in the COVID-19 pandemic, and one officer wrote that he applied the hood to avoid possible infection. But spit hoods have long been a common — and controversial — police tactic for restraining detainees.
After the hood is placed on him, Prude asks the officers to give him their guns as he complains about his restraints.
The AP has a rundown of what happened next, as well as selected video. (Warning: The footage is disturbing):
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.
Prude was brain dead when he arrived at a nearby hospital. His death was ruled a homicide, caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of a physical restraint.” The drug PCP, as well as “excited delirium,” were listed as contributing factors.
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe Prude said at the press conference.
Activists said that the incident highlights the need for a different approach to mental-health episodes.
“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, a local activist group, said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said the incident is under investigation. After the video was made public, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren suspended, with pay, seven officers involved in Prude’s death. Three of the officers — Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, and Fransisco Santiago — were named in a police report obtained by an attorney representing the Prude family.
On September 8, six days after the video was made public, Rochester police chief La’Ron Singletary announced in a statement that he would retire, claiming that “the events of the past week are an attempt to destroy my character and integrity.”
This post has been updated.