A 41-year-old Black man suffocated to death in March after police in Rochester, New York, pinned him to the ground.
Though Daniel Prude’s death occurred nearly six months ago, details became public at a press conference organized by his family Wednesday, according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Body camera footage of the altercation also became available Wednesday, which Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren called “disturbing.” She said, “I can sympathize and empathize with the family.”
Joe Prude, the victim’s brother, called the police’s actions “cold-blooded murder” and said officers treated him “like a damned animal.”
“I placed a phone call to get my brother help, not to have my brother lynched. How many more brothers have to die before society understands this needs to stop?” Joe asked. He had called 911 on March 23 as his brother was in the throes of a mental health crisis possibly induced by phencyclidine (PCP), walking naked and covered in blood through the city at 3 a.m. Daniel Prude had earlier thrown himself down the basement stairs head first and run out the back door of his brother’s house. His autopsy showed evidence of PCP in his blood. Joe Prude told police not to kill his brother, according to The Appeal.
Video shows Daniel Prude in downtown Rochester lying on the ground in compliance with officers’ directives. As five officers detained and handcuffed him, he began to shout at them and spit. He had claimed to be infected with the new coronavirus, and officers placed a “spit hood” over his head. He asked officers to remove it. At one point, while sitting up, he yelled, “Gimme that gun! I mean it!” As police pushed him down, he said, “You’re trying to kill me!” One officer, identified as Mark Vaughn, is shown in the video using both hands to push Prude’s face down while another, Troy Talladay, applies a knee to his back. A third restrained his legs. Vaughn later reported he had used a “hypoglossal nerve technique” on Prude, using pointed fingers to hit a nerve between his jaw and neck. The Democrat & Chronicle reports Vaughn subdued Prude for two minutes and 15 seconds before asking, “You good now?” An emergency medical technician arrived and found Prude to be unconscious and not breathing. The EMT, Brett Barnes, later told investigators, “The officers’ actions appeared appropriate for what Prude was doing, and necessary to keep Prude from running around the entire street.”
Police reported Prude’s heartbeat was restored during the ambulance ride to a nearby hospital, but he was already brain dead. He died seven days later.
According to body camera footage, when informed of his brother’s transport to the hospital by police, Joe Prude asked, “So he cooperated?” The police officer present replied, “Yeah.”
The Monroe County Medical Examiner, Dr. Nadia Granger, deemed Prude’s death a homicide, reportedly citing “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delirium due to acute phycyclidine intoxication.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office is investigating the death. In a statement issued Wednesday, she called the death “a tragedy.”
The officers involved were not disciplined, and they remain on duty, according to the Democrat & Chronicle. Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary told the paper he could not sanction the officers until James’ office finishes its investigation. Asked why documentation of the death took months to become public, Singletary said, “This is not a cover-up.”
At the Wednesday press conference, Joe Prude and local activists called for the officers involved to be fired and charged. Protesters also gathered outside the Public Safety Building on Wednesday, where they engaged in a tense standoff with police.
“We are in need of accountability for the wrongful death and murder of Daniel Prude. He was treated inhumanely and without dignity. These officers killed someone and are still patrolling in our community,” said Ashley Gantt, a community organizer with the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The deaths of George Floyd—also by asphyxiation—and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police have galvanized a wave of protests against police brutality across the nation similar to the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement in the middle of the decade. A wider reckoning over race in American public life followed the recent widespread demonstrations. Most recently, the non-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, ignited a wave of protests that has produced conflicts with vigilante militias that arrive in opposition.