Attorneys for suspended Rochester police officers defend use of force on Daniel Prude

Daniel Prude

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Attorneys for the seven suspended police officers involved in Daniel Prude’s death defended their clients at a press conference Thursday morning, held at the Rochester Police Locust Club.

The seven officers involved in the incident back in March were suspended with pay after details of Prude’s death became public on September 2. The seven suspended officers are Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.

“These officers are being mistreated unfairly,” said attorney Michael Schiano, who is representing Santiago. “Their lives have been threatened, there are bounties placed on their heads.”

Attorneys say their clients followed proper training procedures and protocol. They said they would release videos and documents from law enforcement that supports that claim.

New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services training video

Attorney Matthew Rich said PCP was the “root cause” of Prude’s death. However, the autopsy report by the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s office said Prude’s cause of death was due to “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint. The autopsy report ruled Prude’s death a homicide. Rich said homicide in that report was used as a matter of “medical opinion, not a legal conclusion.”

“There’s no question it’s a tragic situation for Mr. Prude’s family, and there may need to be conversations about training and mental health intervention, but these officers did exactly what they were trained to do and they did it flawlessly,” said attorney James Nobles, who is representing officer Vaughn.

Full press conference:

MORE | WATCH: Footage of encounter between Daniel Prude and Rochester police officers before his death

The body camera video released by Prude’s family last month was objectively disturbing. Attorneys for the officers argued on behalf of their actions that night, which included not giving a naked man in the streets a blanket when it was roughly 30 degrees that night.

“Officers are not issued blankets as part of their RPD equipment, they do not have them in their cars, they are not provided them,” Nobles said. “He was not hypo, but hyperthermic as a result of his PCP use. A covering at that point in time would have done farm more harm then good. The worst thing they could have done was to give him a blanket. He was literally cooking from the inside out. He never mentioned being cold, he wasn’t shivering.”

Attorneys also displayed a spit hood, which officers put on Prude’s head. They argued the spit hood is easier to breath in than common N-95 masks which are common used by many amid the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE | Minute-by-minute timeline of Daniel Prude’s encounter with Rochester Police on March 23

Attorneys for the officers argued that they restrained Prude to protect themselves, and Prude himself.

“They have to protect themselves and protect him, by circling and not letting him move,” Schiano said. “At that point it was part of their training.”

Attorneys say the officers followed protocol, and that justice for Daniel Prude would mean changing the training and policies put forth by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice. They say the protocol officers followed was put forth by the DCJS in 2017 and has been rolled out statewide.

A demonstration ensued outside the Locust Club in Rochester where protesters were detained by police. A few protesters were arrested, but the specific number of arrests is not known at this time.

MORE | Protesters arrested outside of police union after lawyers defend suspended officer’s actions

Rev. Lewis Stewart of United Christian Leadership Ministry released a statement that rejected the attorney’s presentation Thursday, saying in part: “Murderers of innocent civilians should not be on the City payroll. I ask the public to reject the police attorneys misleading statements.”

Protests have been ongoing in and around Rochester since September 2, when details of Prude’s death first became public.

Free the People ROC, one of the local groups organizing protests and events, has released a list of demands that it will continue to fight for:

“Lovely Warren’s decision to appoint a new interim Police Chief and Command Staff doesn’t address the deep structural issues in policing. Nothing short of a complete transformation will address the problems we see every day.  Our demands are clear and Lovely Warren has done exactly nothing to meet the demands of the people.  This is what we continue to fight for:

  1. Fire and prosecute Mark Vaughn, Troy Talladay, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, Paul Ricotta, and Sgt. Michael Magri and revoke their pensions.
  2. Drop the criminal charges against all protestors arrested since May 30th.
  3. Daniel’s Law – Pass legislation prohibiting police from responding to mental health calls. The state must ensure an emergency response system that puts trained mental health providers in the lead to respond and direct care in a mental health crisis not police.
  4. We demand the immediate resignation of Lovely Warren, Deputy Mayor James Smith, Mike Mazzeo, and Sandra Doorley.
  5. Defund and demilitarize RPD

MORE | Naked with spit hoods: Rochester protesters demonstrate in solidarity with Daniel Prude

“We are asking for defunding, and instead we keep getting new Black figureheads you put blame on to hold accountable when the system continues to not work as its supposed to,” said Free the People ROC organizer Stanley Martin. “I want us to think critically, and not just because we have a Black woman that doesn’t mean that’s progress — it means she’s holding a white supremacist space and her title will only allow her to continue a system of white supremacy. So yes we can see that she’s a Black woman, but we can also be critical of anyone who fills the seats of police chief because police chiefs are historically slave catchers and abusers of our rights so anyone who comes in this position we will continue to be critical of.”

Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago, died after an encounter with Rochester police back in March, but news of the incident just came to light on September 2.

The autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death of Prude a homicide. The report said Prude’s cause of death includes “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report also showed that Prude also had a small amount of PCP in his system at the time of his death, which could explain his erratic behavior.

Less than one-week Prude’s death became public, Police Chief Singletary announced his retirement — along with several other members of RPD’s command staff.

The following week, Mayor Lovely Warren fired Singletary before his effective retirement date and named Mark Simmons the interim Chief of Police. Simmons was then replaced by Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan last week.

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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