Charges will not be filed in the death of New York man Daniel Prude, who was seen on police body camera footage being pinned to the ground with a spit bag over his head.
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday that a grand jury voted not to indict any of the Rochester Police officers involved in the incident.
Prude, 41, was restrained by the officers in March 2020 during a mental health emergency. His death, of complications from asphyxia after he was taken off life support, was ruled a homicide.
“Daniel Prude was in the throes of a mental health crisis and what he needed was compassion, care, and help from trained professionals,” James said in a statement. “Tragically, he received none of those things.”
Body camera footage, released by Prude’s family in September, showed Prude appearing to go unconscious while he is being pinned to the ground.
The delay in the release of the video resulted in James’ office implementing a new policy in which body camera footage will now be released earlier in the investigation process.
James said Tuesday that the current deadly force laws in place “have created a system that utterly and abjectly failed Mr. Prude and so many others before him,” adding that serious reform is needed on the “criminal justice system as a whole.”
“While I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community, and communities across the country will rightfully be devastated and disappointed, we have to respect this decision,” James said.
Following the announcement, hundreds of protesters gathered Tuesday night at the spot where Prude encountered police last year, according to ABC Rochester affiliate WHAM-TV. They marched while shouting, “No justice, no peace.”
Amid the protest, the Rochester Police Department asked that anyone “wishing to peacefully protest refrain from partaking in or being involved with anyone that acts or commits acts of violence.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement that the decision is “hard for many of us to understand.”
“Today’s findings will not undo the damage done nor bring Mr. Prude back to his loved ones. And, we extend our fullest prayers and condolences to his children and his family,” Warren said. “There are no words that can comfort a family who has lost their loved one in this tragic way. Our actions going forward will ensure that Daniel Prude’s death was not in vain.”
Lovely echoed James’ insistence that policies and procedures must change to “correct the inequities in the system.”
James’ office has released a comprehensive report with detailed descriptions of the events that allegedly occurred on March 22 and 23 “to provide maximum transparency into the case,” according to a statement.
More answers on what happened behind closed doors with the grand jury also will be forthcoming, as James announced Tuesday evening that a judge granted a motion to release the proceedings.
“This is a critical step in effecting the change that is so desperately needed,” she said on Twitter.
Her office will release the proceedings “as soon as the judge authorizes,” she said.
Attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who represent Crude’s family, said in a joint statement that they are “deeply disappointed” that the officers involved will not face criminal charges.
“This tragedy could have been avoided if officers had been properly trained but also used basic human decency and common sense to treat Mr. Prude with compassion and get him the medical attention he deserved,” the attorneys said. “We will continue to advocate for justice in the civil courts, while also seeking federal police reform so that these continued tragedies against Black citizens end once and for all.”
Former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary was fired in September amid criticism over the handling of Prude’s death. Seven officers involved in the incident were also suspended that month and will remain on leave pending an internal investigation, interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan and the Rochester Police Locust Club, the department’s police union, said in separate statements.
Herriott-Sullivan said she has “a deep and unwavering regard for our judicial system and due process for all persons” but that the department will continue to update its policies and training, from de-escalation, duty to intervene and mental hygiene detention practices.
“I want the family and our community to know that I accepted the role of Interim Police Chief to make real, systemic change, and that is still my goal,” Herriott-Sullivan said. “I am proud of the progress we’re making and of RPD Officers for being open to learning alternative methods and working together towards a common goal of keeping this from happening again.”
Lawyers representing several of the suspended officers said they were following their mandated training.
“We’ve said from the beginning our clients didn’t do anything wrong,” James Nobles, who represents one of the officers, told WHAM Tuesday. “They followed their procedure they called on their training, they did what they were called on to do. And you know, 23 citizens from this community heard weeks of evidence and dozens of witnesses and came to the same conclusion.”
“It’s easy to sit back and say they should have been nicer and they should have said this, they should have done that,” Matt Rich, who represents four of the officers, told the station. “What they did was, in a crisis in a high-stress situation, they fell back on their training, which was what they were ordered by their superiors.”