New York Grand Jury Votes Not To Indict Rochester Officers In Daniel Prude Case

(NPR) - New York Attorney General Letitia James says a grand jury voted that no charges will be filed against Rochester police officers in connection with the March 2020 death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who was in the midst of a mental health freefall during the encounter.

New York Grand Jury Votes Not To Indict Rochester Officers In Daniel Prude Case

James initiated an investigation into the fatal encounter between police and Prude, who later died of asphyxiation, after his family uncovered video footage showing officers pinning him to the ground, while in handcuffs and with a mesh hood over his head.

Police body-camera footage of the arrest sparked outrage when it was published in September, prompting days of protests and accusations of a cover-up by city officials.

"We concluded that there was sufficient evidence surrounding Mr. Prude's death to warrant presenting the case to a grand jury, and we presented the most comprehensive case possible," James said in a statement announcing the decision — a culmination of a months-long investigation by the AG's office.

James said that the 41-year-old Prude was in the throes of a mental health crisis when police were called to the scene, and that "what he needed was compassion, care, and help from trained professionals."

"Tragically, he received none of those things," she wrote.

James added: "The current laws on deadly force have created a system that utterly and abjectly failed Mr. Prude and so many others before him. Serious reform is needed, not only at the Rochester Police Department, but to our criminal justice system as a whole."

She urged the public to "respect this decision" despite feelings of injustice or disappointment.

The Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Prude died from "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delirium due to acute phencyclidine intoxication," and listed the cause of death as "homicide."

Several members of the Rochester Police Department command staff either resigned or were fired in the wake of the incident and ensuing protests, and city officials have pledged reforms. Days after the footage was released, James announced she would put together a grand jury as part of her office's investigation into Prude's death.

Attorney Matthew Rich, who is representing four of the officers involved, told NPR member station WXXI in November that James' office had been presenting to the grand jury since mid-October. He asserted the innocence of all seven officers, including his clients. Of the four, he said, one was not on the scene at all, and none had physical contact with Prude.

Details of Prude's death emerged at the tail end of a summer marked by protests against racial injustice and police brutality, sparked by the high-profile police killings of Black victims including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

"Daniel was very charismatic," his brother, Joe Prude, told NPR's Morning Edition in September. "He was a good dude all the way around. He was down to earth, a good generous man at heart."

Arrest during an apparent mental health crisis

Rochester police arrested Prude in the early hours of March 23 while responding to a 911 call made by his brother, who was concerned about Prude's safety during an apparent mental health crisis.

Prude had been released from Rochester's Strong Memorial Hospital earlier that evening after expressing suicidal thoughts, and had left his brother's house wearing long johns and a tank top in below-freezing temperatures. Police found him naked and acting irrationally, allegedly smashing storefront windows and ranting about having the coronavirus.

Graphic police body camera footage shows officers confronting Prude with tasers and ordering him to lie down on the snow-slicked road, then cuffing his hands behind his back when he complied. An increasingly agitated Prude began to yell and spit at officers and attempted to stand up, eventually prompting officers to place a "spit hood" over his head. Officers then restrained Prude by pinning down his head and feet and kneeling on his back.

Prude lost consciousness and stopped breathing, according to police reports. He died a week later after he was taken off life support.

Joe Prude told NPR that he believes the police are to blame for his brother's death, citing "excessive force."

"I didn't call them to come help my brother die," he said. "I called them to come help me get my brother some help."