A few things: Erratic behavior shouldn’t automatically be perceived as threatening. People on drugs are still people. A person displaying signs of mental illness needs help, not excessive force. The Black Lives Matter explosion will never subside as long as police officers continue being overly aggressive when dealing with Black people—especially when those encounters end in death.
In March, police in Rochester, N.Y. confronted a Black man who had been walking naked through the streets. The police were called to the scene by the man’s brother, who said he only called them out of concern for his brother’s wellbeing. The man’s detainment by responding officers led to him being put on life support, which he was taken off of a week later. On Wednesday, after records and video footage of the altercation were released, the victim’s family held a press conference to demand the firing of the officers involved in the incident.
The Associated Press reports that Daniel Prude died on March 30, seven days after his altercation with Rochester police. Prude was from Chicago but was visiting his brother, Joe Prude, in upstate New York. He had reportedly been kicked off the train en route to Rochester “due to his unruly behavior,” according to an internal affairs investigator’s report. On March 22, Prude was taken into custody by police for a mental health evaluation around 7 p.m. because he was having suicidal thoughts. He was released hours later but around 3 a.m. the next morning, his brother called the police to report his brother had left the house.
The videos show Prude, who had taken off his clothes, complying when police ask him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Prude is agitated and shouting as he sits on the pavement in handcuffs for a few moments as a light snow falls. “Give me your gun, I need it,” he shouts.
Then, they put a white “spit hood” over his head, a device intended to protect officers from a detainee’s saliva. At the time, New York was in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prude demands they remove it.
Then the officers slam Prude’s head into the street. One officer, who is white, holds his head down against the pavement with both hands, saying “calm down” and “stop spitting.” Another officer places a knee on his back.
“Trying to kill me!” Prude says, his voice becoming muffled and anguished under the hood.
“OK, stop. I need it. I need it,” the prone man begs before his shouts turn to whimpers and grunts.
The officers appear to become concerned after he stops moving, falls silent and they notice water coming out of Prude’s mouth.
“My man. You puking?” one says.
One officer notes that he’s been out, naked, in the street for some time. Another remarks, “He feels pretty cold.”
His head had been held down by an officer for just over two minutes, the video shows.
The officers then remove the hood and his handcuffs and medics can then be seen performing CPR before he’s loaded into an ambulance.
Spit hoods have been scrutinized as a factor in the deaths of several prisoners in the U.S. and other countries in recent years.
A medical examiner concluded that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report lists excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, as contributing factors
At the news conference, Joe expressed that his call to the cops didn’t end the way he expected.
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe said. “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?”
A full video published by The Appeal and Democrat & Chronicle shows that the responding officers spent a lot of time laughing and mocking Prude while he was rambling incoherently and that mocking continued even as he was lying unresponsive on the ground when the paramedics arrived. One officer can be heard asking Prude, “Sir, you don’t got AIDS, do you?” (The video below is an excerpt from the longer video, which appears to be no longer available.)
“He complied with all of their demands, and then they treated him like a piece of garbage with not even one speck of basic humanity,” Elliot Dolby-Shields, an attorney representing Prude’s family, told The Appeal. “No, ‘Hey are you alright? Hey, can we get you a blanket?’ It’s freezing out and he’s naked. They don’t offer him anything.”
“At first he’s talking, and then he’s whimpering, and then he goes silent,” Dolby-Shields continued. “And they all laugh. They’re having a good time, and you can see at that moment that his hand stops twitching, and his chest stops going up and down, and he’s dying, and they’re just casually making jokes.”
So far, none of the officers involved have been charged in Prude’s death, fired or even suspended over the incident. According to The Appeal, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren told reporters Wednesday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in the wake of Eric Garner’s death, requiring that deaths in police custody be investigated by the attorney general’s office. Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said he ordered a criminal investigation and an internal investigation on March 23 and that the attorney general’s office took over the investigation in April. The investigation has not been concluded.
New York Attorney General Letitia James released the following statement Wednesday:
“The death of Daniel Prude was a tragedy, and I extend my deepest condolences to his family. I share the community’s concerns about ensuring a fair and independent investigation into his death and support their right to protest. Pursuant to Executive Order 147, the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit of my office is already actively investigating this incident. As with every investigation, we will follow the facts of this case and ensure a complete and thorough examination of all relevant parties. We will work tirelessly to provide the transparency and accountability that all our communities deserve.”
Updated: 9/3/20, 5:17 p.m.: On Thursday, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren suspended seven police officers over the detainment of 41-year-old Daniel Prude who went on life support after the encounter and died a week later, according to the New York Times.