A Black man who had run naked through the streets of Rochester, New York, died of asphyxiation after being forcibly restrained by police officers who placed a spit-hood over his head and pressed his face into the pavement for over two minutes in the early hours of March 23, according to video and records released Wednesday by the man’s family.
Daniel Prude, 41, who suffered from acute mental health problems, died on March 30 after he was taken off life support, seven days after his 11-minute encounter with six police officers in Rochester. His death received no public attention until Wednesday, when his family held a news conference and released police body camera video and written reports they obtained through a public records request.
A medical examiner’s report concluded that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The autopsy also found a low level of the hallucinogen drug phencyclidine, or PCP, in Prude’s system. The report lists excited delirium and “acute phencyclidine intoxication” as contributing factors in his death.
USA Today reports:
Prude had left his brother’s home wearing long underwear, a tank top and socks. He took off the clothes while on West Main, a witness told police. Police suspect Prude broke windows at a business before officers found him. Several people encountered him, and at least one person called 911 to report his erratic actions, according to police.
At 3:16 a.m., a police officer ordered Prude to lie on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Prude complied and was handcuffed.
Officers attempted to make a mental health arrest. Prude was agitated and spitting. Officers covered his head with a white “spit hood” meant to protect police from body fluids.
The videos show Prude is agitated and shouting as he sits naked on the pavement in handcuffs for a few moments as a light snow falls. “Give me your gun, I need it,” he shouts.
Officers then put a white “spit hood” over his head. At the time, New York was in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. One officer wrote in a report that they put the hood on Prude because he was spitting continuously in the direction of officers, and they were concerned about coronavirus.
In the video (embedded below), Prude demands they remove the hood, yells at them, and tries to stand up. Officers then push him to the pavement and hold him down. 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, and a third holds his legs down.
“Trying to kill me!” Prude says, his voice becoming muffled under the hood.
“OK, stop. I need it. I need it,” he pleads.
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 about 11 minutes after the first police officer arrived on the scene.
Prude was from Chicago and had arrived in Rochester for a visit with his brother, Joe Prude. He was kicked off the train before it got to Rochester, in Depew, “due to his unruly behavior,” according to an internal affairs investigator’s report.
Rochester police officers took Prude into custody for a mental health evaluation around 7 p.m. on March 22 for suicidal thoughts — about eight hours before the encounter that led to his death. But his brother said he was only at the hospital for a few hours, according to the reports.
Police responded again after Joe Prude called 911 at about 3 a.m. to report that his brother had left his house.
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe Prude said at the news conference Wednesday. “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?”
The city halted its investigation into Prude’s death when state Attorney General Letitia James’ office began its own investigation in April. Under New York law, deaths of unarmed people in police custody are often turned over to the attorney general’s office, rather than handled by local officials.
James said Wednesday that investigation is continuing.
“I want everyone to understand that at no point in time did we feel that this was something that we wanted not to disclose,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said at a press briefing. “We are precluded from getting involved in it until that agency has completed their investigation.”
Activists demanded that officers involved be prosecuted on murder charges and that they be removed from the department while the investigation proceeds.
“The police have shown us over and over again that they are not equipped to handle individuals with mental health concerns. These officers are trained to kill, and not to deescalate. These officers are trained to ridicule, instead of supporting Mr. Daniel Prude,” Ashley Gantt of Free the People ROC said at the news conference with Prude’s family.
Calls to the union representing Rochester police officers, and to the organization’s attorney, rang unanswered Wednesday.
Protesters gathered Wednesday outside Rochester’s Public Safety Building, which serves as police headquarters. Police clashed with the protesters and dispersed them using pepper spray. Free the People ROC said several of its organizers were briefly taken into custody after they entered the building while Warren was speaking to the media.
They were released on appearance tickets, said Iman Abid, regional director of the NYCLU, who was among those taken into custody.
Prude, known to his Chicago-based family by the nickname “Rell,” was a father of five adult children and had been working at a warehouse within the last year, said his aunt Letoria Moore.
“He was just a bright, loving person, just family-oriented, always there for us when we needed him,” she said, and “never hurt or harmed anybody.”
Prude had been traumatized by the deaths of his mother and a brother in recent years, having lost another brother before that, Moore said. In his last months, he’d been going back and forth between his Chicago home and his brother’s place in Rochester because he wanted to be close with him, she said.
She knew her nephew had some psychological issues. Still, when he called two days before his death, “he was the normal Rell that I knew,” Moore said.
“I didn’t know what was the situation, why he was going through what he was going through that night, but I know he didn’t deserve to be killed by the police,” she said.
The fatal encounter happened two months before the death of George Floyd in Minnesota prompted nationwide demonstrations. Floyd died after an officer put his knee on his neck for several minutes during an arrest.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.