Editor’s note: A warning to viewers that some may find this video disturbing.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The family of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died in March after an encounter with police, intends to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Rochester, and the New York State Attorney General is actively investigating the case.
Activists say Prude was lying on the ground — naked, handcuffed, and unarmed — when police killed him on March 23. They say police put a spit mask, which is a mesh bag, over his Prude’s head and pushed it into the ground. They say less than 10 minutes later, Prude was unconscious. He was hospitalized, put on a ventilator, and then, according to the autopsy report, he was officially pronounced dead seven days later.
MORE | NY AG investigating Black man’s death after encounter with Rochester police officers
That autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death of Prude a homicide. The report says 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.
Video of the incident surfaced Wednesday when Black Lives Matter activists gathered outside City Hall to call for the immediate firing and prosecution of the officers involved.
Seven officers involved were suspended with pay Thursday, following a press conference where Mayor Warren said she suspended them against the council’s advice.
“I placed the phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched,” said Joe Prude, the brother of Daniel Prude. “When I say get lynched, that was full fledged, murder, cold-blooded — nothing other than cold-blooded murder. The man is defenseless, naked on the ground, cuffed up already. I mean come on, how many brothers got to die for society to understand that this needs to stop? You killed a defenseless black man, a father’s son, a brother’s brother, a nephew’s uncle.”
Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said the New York State Attorney General’s Letitia James’ office is investigating the incident while an internal investigation was ordered on March 23.
“Rochester Police Department was called and that response led to his murder,” said activist Ashley Gantt, who is also an organizer for NYCLU. “The police have shown us time and time again that they cannot address mental health crises. Today we stand firmly seeking justice for Daniel and his family, and all the victims who have been murdered and terrorized by the Rochester Police Department.”
MORE | Protest at Public Safety Building in Rochester sparks after news of Daniel Prude’s death
Elliot Shields, the attorney representing the family, says the notice of claim has been filed with the city, the first step to proceed a wrongful death lawsuit.
“We’ll address the legal claims later, today we’re here to support the family,” said attorney Elliot Shields who represents the family. “We’re here to support Joe, and all that I can tell you is what Joe is going through, what his father is going through, what his sisters going through is incredible pain. I watched the video with them and it was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Watching the family react to see their brother and son murdered by Rochester police officers while other officers stood around, paramedics, EMTs and nobody granted him any basic humanity. And the pain that causes the family is unimaginable. I can’t even imagine what Joe is going through and I talk to Joe all the time. Its just terrible and that’s why were here today.”
As a result of an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July, New York State Attorney General Letitia James will investigate all cases where law enforcement officers are involved in the deaths of civilians.
Mayor Warren and Chief Singletary held a press conference shortly after the announcement, a press conference that only media was allowed to attend.
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“I know on March 23 they [Prude’s family] did everything possible to make sure that their loved one was taken care of,” Mayor Warren said. “They took him to the hospital, they tried, they called and they sought the help that they needed. Unfortunately something tragic ended up happening ,and losing a loved one is never easy for anyone. On behalf of the citizens of Rochester I do extend my deepest condolences.
“Once Mr. Prude passed away, the Rochester Police Department turned the case over to the Attorney General’s office and since that time we have been waiting for the Attorney General’s office to make a determination on how this case is to proceed,” Mayor Warren said. “The reason why that is the case is because we want to make sure the investigation is fair, unbiased — something people have confidence in — and that the entity that is being investigated in not the entity that’s conducting the investigation.
“Unfortunately it has taken some time and I sympathize with the family because I too, when I saw the video, was very disturbed,” Mayor Warren said. “In this particular instance, this is not within our control. It’s not within our control fairly, because the executive order outlines that this case has to be handed by the Attorney General’s office.
“At no point in time did we feel that this was something that we wanted not to disclose,” Mayor Warren said. “It is always something that we want to be forthright, up front about with our citizens — whether we’re talking about what happened with Mr. Pate, or what happened with Trevyan Rowe, or any other citizen in our city. I have been first to come forward and stand with our citizens and let them know the process going forward. In this particular case, this is handled by another agency. Unfortunately it is now September 2 and we do not have a report from the AG’s office.”
MORE | Autopsy report: Daniel Prude death ruled a homicide, died from asphyxia due to ‘physical restraint’
“Rest assured that we are going to do everything possible to make sure that the truth comes out and that justice is held here,” Mayor Warren said. “The video I understand is very disturbing, it’s very disturbing, it breaks my heart as well, but we have to follow the process that has been laid out by executive order 147.”
The chief echoed statements that his department is cooperating.
“Anytime you have an in-custody death it is taken serious, hence why I ordered, that morning on March 23 after the arrest, a criminal investigation which is conducted by our Major Crimes Unit as well as an internal investigation conducted by our professional standards sections,” said Chief Singletary. “On March 23 I did contact DA Sandra Doorley, and asked her to take a look at the situation as well. On April 16 we were notified (that because of) New York governor’s executive order 147 that (the AG’s office was) the entity that had authority over the death of someone in custody.”
To reiterate, at this time, the officers involved have not been suspended.
“This is not a cover-up. There is no cover-up whatsoever,” Chief Singletary said. “We’re going to take a look at this criminal investigation. The internal investigation looks at whether the officers violated policy and procedures of the Rochester Police Department. From day one we have been in conversation with the investigating authorities as such. Like the mayor said we don’t have a problem holding anyone accountable. At this particular point in time, that’s why I’m waiting for the investigation to unfold to determine what the next step will be.”
Gov. Cuomo touched on Prude’s death during a conference call with media Wednesday evening.
“I did an executive order that allows the attorney general to investigate the death of an unarmed person in police custody and she is doing an investigation to that situation,” Gov. Cuomo said. “So that is ongoing, it’s all she’s been doing since July so I don’t want to comment on an ongoing investigation, but people should know that it is under investigation and it has been for months by the attorney general.
“I haven’t watched it, I am going to watch it tonight,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It was described to me, and the way it was described is disturbing.”
A statement from Monroe County District Attorney Wednesday:
“On the afternoon of April 16, 2020, the cause of death of Daniel Prude was sent to the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office. Upon reviewing the cause of death of Mr. Prude, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley made the initial notification to Jennifer Sommers of the State of New York Office of the Attorney General for referral pursuant to Executive Order No. 147. The official letter of jurisdiction was sent to the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office from Jennifer Sommers on April 21, 2020. The entire Monroe County District Attorney’s Office offers their deepest condolences to the family of Daniel Prude.”
A statement from New York State Attorney General Letitia James 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.”
Rochester City Council issued a statement Wednesday evening regarding Prude’s death:
“First and foremost, the Council wants to acknowledge the tragedy of Daniel Prude’s death and offer our heartfelt condolences to his loved ones. No person should have to endure what we saw on the body camera footage. In a moment of need, his family reached out for help, and our system failed Mr. Prude at every turn.
Like many in our community, the Council only learned of and saw this footage today. While we are extremely troubled by this matter, we are limited in what we can do at this time. The State Attorney General’s office is conducting an investigation into the death of Mr. Prude, and we call on Attorney General Letitia James to expedite this process. We must bring answers to Mr. Prude’s family.
As we await the outcome of this investigation, we call upon the County to join us to develop adequate and appropriate resources to respond to the cries for help such as these that went unanswered. We must also rectify inadequacies in our policies, practices, and procedures and improve our communication both internally and externally.”
Congressman Joe Morelle weighed in on Twitter:
Black Lives Matter press conference:
Mayor Warren, Chief Singletary Press conference:
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.