On March 22, 2020, Prude was released from a hospital after expressing suicidal thoughts; that night, he left his brother’s house in the midst of a mental-health crisis in a tank top in sub-freezing weather. By the time police were called and arrived at the scene early the next morning, Prude was naked and claiming that he had the coronavirus. Body-camera footage showed Prude complying as officers ordered him to lie down in the road; soon, he began to spit at the officers and they placed a hood on him, pinned his head down against the pavement, and kneeled on his back. According to police reports, he lost consciousness and stopped breathing. He was soon declared brain dead, and died a week later. While the police claimed Prude had overdosed on PCP, a medical examiner in Monroe County ruled his death a homicide caused in part by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
“Daniel Prude was in the throes of a mental-health crisis and what he needed was compassion, care, and help from trained professionals,” Attorney General James wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “Tragically, he received none of those things.” Neither was the Rochester Police Department forthcoming about the homicide: When the autopsy was released in April 2020, Mayor Lovely Warren said she had been told by the police that Prude had died strictly of an overdose. In June, amid widespread protests against police brutality, the city stated that James asked that body-cam footage not be released so that it would not compromise the attorney general’s investigation. But in an interview with the New York Times, a spokesperson for James’s office denied “plain and simple” that such a request ever occurred. The video of the incident was only made public in September.
In an announcement at the Aenon Missionary Baptist Church in Rochester on Tuesday, Attorney General James said that “the criminal-justice system has demonstrated an unwillingness to hold law-enforcement officers accountable in the unjustified killing of unarmed African-Americans. What binds these cases is the tragic loss of life in circumstances in which the death could be avoided.” James, who also issued a set of recommendations to reform New York police departments, said she planned to meet immediately with the Prude family, as well as the family of a 9-year-old Black girl who was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by Rochester police officers in January.
The grand-jury decision not to charge the officers came the day after an independent investigation into the death of Elijah McClain determined that Aurora, Colorado, police officers had no reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk him in August 2019. The inquiry, ordered by the Aurora City Council in July 2020, also determined that the police department “stretched the record to exonerate the officers rather than present a neutral version of the facts” in an earlier investigation into McClain’s death, which occurred after he was forced to the ground, placed in a chokehold, and injected him with an improper dose of ketamine. No criminal charges were filed against the officers on the scene, though three officers were fired in July 2020 after they posed for a photo in a mock chokehold at the site of McClain’s death; the decision to fire the cops was upheld by the Aurora Civil Service Commission in early February.