On Tuesday, Rochester, N.Y., continued America’s long-standing tradition of not holding police officers accountable for their careless actions when dealing with Black people.
On March 23, last year, Rochester police officers encountered Daniel Prude while he was walking naked in the street. Prude was clearly in need of help, but instead of receiving the care he needed, he was handcuffed, had a “spit hood” put over his head, was handled roughly and mocked by the cops who should have been far more concerned with his well-being than they appeared to be. Prude didn’t survive the incident, and on Tuesday, a grand jury decided the police officers involved were not responsible for his death.
The New York Times reports that New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that a grand jury convened by her office decided not to charge any of the officers involved in Prude’s deadly detainment with crimes in connection with his death.
James—who hasn’t been shy about going hard on N.Y.’s police officers over issues such as police brutality and racial profiling—held no punches in expressing her disappointment in the grand jury decision.
“The criminal justice system has demonstrated an unwillingness to hold law enforcement officers accountable in the unjustified killing of unarmed African-Americans,” James said during a news conference at Aenon Missionary Baptist Church, the Times reports. “What binds these cases is the tragic loss of life in circumstances in which the death could be avoided.”
From the Times:
Ms. James said she planned to meet immediately with the Prude family, as well as the family of a 9-year-old Black girl who was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by police in the back of a police car in Rochester last month.
In an unusual move, a Monroe County Court judge, Karen Bailey Turner, on Tuesday evening granted the attorney general’s request to release minutes related to the grand jury’s investigation, records that are generally protected under seal. “The public deserves to know what transpires behind closed doors,” Ms. James said. The date to make the documents public has not been set.
The federal Justice Department also said it would review the case, raising the possibility that it could open a civil rights investigation into the officers who restrained Mr. Prude, something it has done in other high-profile killings of Black people in police custody.
According to the Associated Press, attorneys for the seven officers cleared of wrongdoing by the grand jury—Sgt. Michael Magri and officers Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris and Mark Vaughn—argued that their clients were only following their training and that Prude’s drug use was “the root cause” of his death.
First of all: If the cops were so innocent, why do their attorneys feel the need to misrepresent what medical examiners actually determined caused Prude’s death? As we previously reported, Prude’s death was ruled a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” PCP was listed as a contributing factor, but in a cop’s lawyer’s mind, it appears “contributing factor” magically changed to “the root cause.”
Secondly, to activists and others who stand against police violence and systemic racism in policing, “that’s what they’re trained to do,” isn’t the ironclad defense “back the blue” people think it is. All that defense means is what we already knew: It’s not just about individual police officers; it’s about the whole damn system.
“The system too often allows officers to use deadly force unnecessarily and without consequence,” James said during the press conference, the Times reports.
Elliot Shields, an attorney for Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, expressed the same sentiments.
“The system failed Daniel Prude,” Shields said. “It failed him when he was released from the hospital, it failed him when the police responded and used deadly force against him and it failed him again today.”