All seven Rochester officers involved in the death of Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who suffocated to death after police pinned him to the ground, have been cleared of wrongdoing, authorities said Tuesday.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said that while her office “presented the strongest case possible,” a grand jury decided “not to indict any officers” involved in the March 23, 2020 death. James also released a 204-page report into Prude’s death, which states that he initially complied with authorities during his arrest and was in need of mental medical assistance.
“I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community, and communities across the country will rightly be disappointed by this outcome,” James said, adding that while she is “extremely disappointed” and wanted a different criminal outcome, “ultimately we have to respect the decision.”
“The system too often allows officers to use deadly force unnecessarily and without consequence,” she added. “The criminal justice system is badly in need of reform. The system was built to protect and shield officers from accountability.”
Authorities say Prude, who was visiting Rochester from Chicago, was in the midst of a psychotic episode and under the influence of the recreational drug PCP when his brother called 911. During an altercation, police ordered Prude, who said he had COVID-19 and began spitting, onto the ground. While pinning him down, officers handcuffed him and put a mesh hood over his head.
Prude was held down for at least two minutes before officers attempted to resuscitate him. He died of homicide asphyxiation on March 30, after a week in a coma. The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Prude’s death a homicide, stating he died from “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report showed that Prude had a small amount of PCP in his system at the time of his death, explaining his erratic behavior during the arrest.
Seven Rochester police officers involved in Prude’s death—Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri—were suspended without pay. In December, the City of Rochester’s Office of Public Integrity released its report about the incident, concluding it found “no evidence” that any city employee violated any "policies or ethical standards" in Prude's death.
James stressed Tuesday that Prude was in need of “compassion, care, and help from trained professionals,” pointing to the need for “serious reform” in the Rochester Police Department and “our criminal justice system as a whole.” She said she was seeking to amend the New York state law on the use of force, to address the “very issues that have prevented us from holding officers accountable when they improperly use deadly force” and ensure cops in the field have the training to help people in need.
She also called for grand jury reform, saying the current laws around its secrecy are “out of date” and should be relaxed to allow transparency for people who are owed answers about the process behind some criminal outcomes.
In the wake of George Floyd’s May 2020 death, protesters called for renewed scrutiny of several fatalities at the hands of police including Prude’s, which didn’t receive national attention until September when shocking body camera footage of the incident was released.
In the footage, Prude is seen walking outside around 3 a.m., naked and covered in blood. Joe Prude said his brother had thrown himself down the basement stairs headfirst earlier that night before he ran out the back door.
The video shows Prude lying on the ground in compliance as Joe begs officers not to kill his brother, according to The Appeal. As five officers handcuff him, however, Prude is heard to shout and spit at them, claiming to be infected with COVID-19.
Officers then put Prude in a “spit hood,” which he asked them to remove. At one point, while sitting up and surrounded by officers, Prude is heard yelling, “Gimme that gun! I mean it!” As police pushed him down, he said, “You’re trying to kill me!”
One of the officers, later identified as Vaughn, is then seen using both hands to push Prude’s face down while Taladay puts his knee to his back. A third restrained his legs.
In his report of the incident, Vaughn said he used a “hypoglossal nerve technique” on Prude, which involves jamming two fingers to hit a nerve between the jaw and neck. Vaughn is seen in the video holding Prude for two minutes and 15 seconds. When he checks in on Prude again, he is unresponsive.
According to the police report, Prude’s heartbeat was restored during the ambulance ride to a nearby hospital—but he was already brain dead. In the body-camera footage, Joe Prude is heard asking officers if his brother, who was on his way to the hospital, cooperated. The police officer present replied, “Yeah.”