Family Alleges He Was Treated Like a “Damn Animal” by Rochester Police
By Linhchi Nguyen
New raw video in the March death of Daniel Prude has surfaced, leading to additional publicity and allegations against a group of police officers now suspended by the department for their role in the asphyxiation death.
Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, died of asphyxiation after a group of police pressed themselves against his defenseless body on the cold pavement. After months of silence following his death, details of the case are finally brought up to the public, and the seven police officers involved are suspended.
On March 23, two months before the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, Joe Prude dialed 911 after his brother, Daniel Prude, fled naked into the streets. A group of Rochester police arrived at the scene, and a newly released video footage reveals them surrounding Daniel Prude and later pressing themselves on top of his body as he lies on the ground.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Joe Prude directed his anger at the officers involved: “The matter was a call for help as you sit here in a push-up stance on my brother’s damn neck. As you’re sitting here with your knee in my brother’s damn back. When he’s defenseless.”
The video footage shows one of the police officers, lying in a plank position, with both hands placed on top of Daniel Prude’s neck. A few minutes before that, the officers placed a white “spit hood” over Prude’s head, a device that is intended to protect officers from a detainee’s saliva. Prude is heard crying loudly in a muffled voice under the cloth.
A few minutes later, the officers grabbed at Prude’s head as he desperately shouted multiple times to take the hood off his face. The video shows the officers’ hands holding down firmly onto the spit hood. Later, an ambulance arrived, and Prude, who was physically struggling and crying just moments before, remained motionless and silent.
A comment from an officer indicated, “He feels pretty cold,” after feeling the temperature of Prude’s body. Another officer then attempted to do compressions on Prude’s chest, and, about a minute afterward, Prude was finally carried in a gurney onto the ambulance vehicle.
Less than 12 minutes had passed from the time Daniel Prude was handcuffed until he was placed in the ambulance. Seven days after the encounter, Prude died, on March 30. His death was confirmed by a medical examiner as a homicide, caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” Delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine were also listed as contributing factors.
However, it wasn’t until last Wednesday, more than five months after the incident, that his death received public attention, when his family held a news conference and released police body camera video.
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe Prude stated. “How did you see him and not directly say, ‘The man is defenseless, buck naked on the ground. He’s cuffed up already.’ Come on, how many more brothers gotta die for society to understand that this needs to stop?”
He added that Prude’s race should not have led the officers to treat him any lesser than a human. “It doesn’t make me lesser than you. Because my skin is darker than yours. My melanin is better than yours. I don’t care what it is. We’re all human. I’m not no animal. And that’s what they…treat my brother like – a damn animal.”
Prude’s aunt, Letoria Moore, said Prude had been traumatized by the deaths of his mother and a brother, and he had been visiting Joe Prude in Rochester to be close with him. During this particular visit, Prude was kicked off the train and was taken into custody for a mental health evaluation for suicidal thoughts. This was only eight hours before the encounter that led to his death.
“The police have shown us over and over again that they are not equipped to handle individuals with mental health concerns. These officers are trained to kill, and not to deescalate,” said Ashley Grantt of Free the People ROC at the news conference with Prude’s family.
The seven Rochester police officers involved were not suspended until last Thursday. In response to rising questions from activists and the press as to why the case did not become public for so long, Mayor Lovely Warren announced in a press briefing, “In this particular instance, this is not within our control.” She explained that the “the executive order outlines that this case has to be handled by the attorney general’s office.”
The law Warren was referring to is Executive Order 147 under which deaths of unarmed people in police custody are often turned over to the attorney general’s office, rather than handled by local officials. On Wednesday, Attorney General Letitia James made her first statement ensuring, “We will work tirelessly to provide the transparency and accountability that all our communities deserve.”
However, in a letter delivered on Thursday, the Rochester City Council requested the state attorney general to “come to our City, address our community, and explain the process your office must undertake.” They also demanded Attorney James to expedite the investigation of Prude’s death and that this process “occur[s] with transparency and urgency.”
Protesters have been taking to the streets, demanding justice for Daniel Prude on Wednesday and Thursday. Questions have also been stirring regarding the use of the spit hood that was placed over Prude’s face during his arrest. According to Associated Press News, one officer wrote that Prude was spitting continuously in the direction of the officers, and they were concerned about coronavirus. However, spit hoods have been scrutinized as a factor in the deaths of several prisoners in the US in recent years.
Attorney James said that further investigation is continuing.
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