NEW YORK (Reuters) - A grand jury in New York state voted not to indict police officers for the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died of asphyxiation while in police custody in March 2020 in the upstate city of Rochester, state Attorney General Letitia James said on Tuesday.
Prude’s family obtained body-worn camera footage of Prude’s death that showed him naked in a dark, snowy street. A mesh “spit hood” was placed over his head after he told officers he had contracted the novel coronavirus. The video also shows Prude, apparently in the middle of a mental health crisis, being restrained against the ground by police.
The footage was released in September, further fueling ongoing nationwide protests against police violence following other high-profile episodes in 2020 where police killed Black men and women, including the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May.
The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer seen in videos kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as he gasped that he couldn’t breathe, begins in Minneapolis on March 8.
James said her office had hoped to secure indictments in the death of Prude, a 41-year-old father of five children who lived in Chicago.
“I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community and communities across the country will rightfully be disappointed by this outcome,” James said at a news conference in Rochester. Citing the court-enforced secrecy surrounding grand-jury proceedings, James declined to say what charges her office had presented to jurors.
A lawyer for Prude’s family, Elliot Shields, said in a statement that the justice system failed Daniel Prude “when the police responded and used deadly force against him, and it failed him again today.”
The Rochester mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prude had visited his brother and ran out of the house in the middle of the night, prompting the brother to call the police, concerned for Prude’s mental health and reporting that he had taken PCP, an illegal drug.
Police officers found Prude naked, approached him with a stun-gun and told him to put his hands behind his back so they could handcuff him, which Prude did, according to a report by James’ office. Less than 10 minutes later, he stopped breathing. Efforts to revive him foundered in the ambulance, and he was taken off life support a week later.
An autopsy found that Prude died of asphyxiation following the restraining holds used by police and excited delirium, a complex syndrome that can be triggered by recreational drug use.
Soon after the video emerged last September, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren fired Police Chief La’Ron Singletary. Seven police officers involved in the arrest were suspended; their lawyers told local media they had followed their police training appropriately.
Singletary’s successor, Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, said in a statement her department would respect the jury’s decision while it would continue to reform the way its officers respond to mental illness.
“My heart goes out to the Prude family during this difficult time,” her statement said. The officers involved remain suspended while an internal investigation continues, she said.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, criticized the grand jury for choosing “impunity, not accountability.”
“The Rochester Police Department took Daniel Prude’s life while he was in crisis,” Lieberman said in a statement. “He deserved services and supports, not for his life to end.”
James, the attorney general, also made new recommendations for how cities respond to mental health crises on Tuesday, urging that emergency personnel be trained in recognizing the symptoms of excited delirium syndrome.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Lisa Shumaker and Leslie Adler
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