A grand jury voted not to indict any officers in the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after police pinned him to the ground in March, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Tuesday.
“Daniel Prude was in the throes of a mental health crisis and what he needed was compassion, care, and help from trained professionals. Tragically, he received none of those things,” James said in a statement. “We concluded that there was sufficient evidence surrounding Mr. Prude’s death to warrant presenting the case to a grand jury, and we presented the most comprehensive case possible.
“While I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community, and communities across the country will rightfully be devastated and disappointed, we have to respect this decision,” James said.
In a statement Tuesday evening, James said a judge had granted her motion for the court to unseal the grand jury minutes for release to the public.
“This is a critical step in effecting the change that is so desperately needed,” she said.
James said earlier that laws on deadly force have “created a system that utterly and abjectly failed Mr. Prude and so many others before him.”
“Serious reform is needed, not only at the Rochester Police Department, but to our criminal justice system as a whole,” said the attorney general, who started an investigation of the case in April.
Attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, who are representing Prude’s family, said they’re “deeply disappointed that the officers will not face criminal charges for killing Daniel Prude during what was clearly a mental health crisis as he lay naked in the cold streets with a spit hood they placed over his head.”
“This tragedy could have been avoided if officers had been properly trained but also used basic human decency and common sense to treat Mr. Prude with compassion and get him the medical attention he deserved,” the attorneys said in a statement. “We will continue to advocate for justice in the civil courts, while also seeking federal police reform so that these continued tragedies against Black citizens end once and for all.”
In a statement, the US Justice Department said: “We intend to review the comprehensive report issued by the New York State Attorney General, as well as any other relevant materials, and will determine whether any further federal response is warranted.”
Attorney urges city to push reforms, not punish officers
The officers involved in the Prude case will remain on leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said in a statement via Twitter.
Mayor Lovely Warren said the decision is “hard for many of us to understand” but that the city will make sure Prude’s death was not in vain.
“Today’s findings will not undo the damage done nor bring Mr. Prude back to his loved ones. And, we extend our fullest prayers and condolences to his children and his family,” Warren said in a statement.
Warren urged the community to come together behind reforms being implemented in the police department.
The Rochester Police Locust Club, which represents the officers, declined to comment pending the ongoing investigation.
CNN has sought comment from attorneys for the officers in the case.
Matthew Rich, who represents several officers who were suspended last year, said the decision was a “long time coming.”
“We’ve been eagerly awaiting this, and we aren’t surprised by it,” he said of the decision. “We are glad the grand jury made the right decision, but this doesn’t put an end to the situation the community finds itself.”
Attorney James Nobles, who represents another officer, said the city should seek policy changes within the department rather than punish individual officers.
AG pushes changes in use-of-force laws and other reforms
James said she will push for changes to state use-of-force laws and other reforms, including mandatory training on deescalation techniques and the handling of mental health and medical emergencies.
“The criminal justice system has frustrated efforts to hold law enforcement officers accountable for the unjustified killing of African Americans,” James said. “And what binds these cases is a tragic loss of life in circumstances in which the death could have been avoided… And history has unfortunately repeated itself again in the case of Daniel Prude.”
The attorney general said she planned to meet with Prude’s brother.
Police dash and body camera footage, released to the public months after the incident, showed officers handcuffing a naked Prude and covering his head with a “spit sock” after he claimed he had the coronavirus and was spitting.
The officers held him and pushed him to the ground in a prone position, according to the video, which also showed officers kneeling on Prude.
EMTs arrived later and began to perform chest compressions, the video showed. Prude was placed on a gurney and into an ambulance.
When Prude arrived at the hospital, he was brain dead, according to his brother. He died a week later.
Seven police officers involved in the arrest were suspended. The police union has insisted the officers followed their training and protocols.
Prude, 41, was having a mental health episode on March 23 when his brother Joe called the Rochester Police Department for help, his family told reporters.
Prude’s death was ruled a homicide by the Monroe County Medical examiner, according to a copy of the autopsy report obtained by lawyers for his family. The report cited complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint as a finding. The report also cited excited delirium and acute PCP intoxication as causes of death.
Family members connected his March death – two months before George Floyd’s death in similar circumstances – to the movement against police violence toward Black people. Protests erupted in Rochester after the body cam footage was released.
The death also raised questions about how police respond to cases involving people in a mental health crisis. Police are often the first to respond to reports of a person acting erratically, and they occasionally use police tactics or force in their response.
The Rochester City Council in September authorized subpoena power to a New York City law firm leading the independent investigation into the city’s handling of the case – particularly whether there was internal cover-up, and how information about Prude’s death was kept from the public in the city in western New York.
In September, the city released 325 pages of internal emails, police reports and other documents that showed a concerted effort by police and city officials to delay the release of incriminating body camera footage.
In one released police incident report, among many edits, some prosaic, Prude’s name is written in the space labeled “Victim.” Prude’s name is circled in red, next to a large, handwritten note: “Make him a suspect.”
Warren pushed out the police chief ahead of his retirement and suspended two other city employees.
Prude’s sister in September filed suit in federal court against the former police chief, 13 officers and the city, claiming in part a department cover-up of the death.
The former police chief, La’Ron Singletary, said earlier this month that he didn’t see anything “egregious” or any criminal conduct from police officers when he first watched body camera video of the incident. He testified in a virtual deposition to an independent investigator.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of New York Attorney General Letitia James.