The New York attorney general has made a significant change to the state’s body camera policy in the wake of how Daniel Prude’s death was handled.
NBC News reports that state Attorney General Letitia James announced on Sunday that local law enforcement agencies will no longer determine when body camera footage is released in cases where police shoot unarmed people. James said her office will be more “proactive” in releasing body camera footage in an effort to make investigations more transparent.
“This process has caused confusion, delays and has hampered transparency in a system that should be as open as possible,” she said. James added that her office’s special prosecutions unit will begin releasing video after the victim’s relatives have seen it, a policy that immediately goes into effect.
This change comes following the controversy that ensued from how the Rochester Police Department handled the death of Daniel Prude. In March, Prude’s family called the police for help as Prude was behaving erratically. When they arrived, Prude was walking through the streets naked. During the course of the altercation, Rochester Police handcuffed Prude, placed a spit hood over his head, and an officer held his knee on Prude’s back for over three minutes until Prude stopped breathing. Prude was placed on life support and eventually died a week later.
Video of the incident wasn’t released until Sept. 4, almost six months after Prude had died. The Rochester Police Department has come under increased scrutiny for the moves it made to suppress the release of the footage. Records show that in June, Deputy Chief Mark Simmons made reference to the ongoing protests surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, saying there would be “violent blowback” should the footage be released in the “current climate.”
“We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions and conflate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationally,” Simmons wrote in an email to former Police Chief La’Ron Singletary.
Singletary’s actions in particular received significant backlash. Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said that Singletary downplayed the circumstances regarding Prude’s death, telling the Mayor that Prude died from a drug overdose. Singletary was set to retire at the end of the month but he was fired by the Mayor last week following an investigation by the deputy mayor.
Warren said that the investigation revealed “a pervasive problem,” in the Rochester Police Department. “It shows that Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who reviewed the case throughout city government and at every level,” she said.
Earlier this month, James announced that she had impaneled a grand jury to investigate Prude’s death.