The Slatest

No Charges for Rochester Officers Who Killed a Black Man Having a Mental Health Crisis

Papers that say "Justice for Daniel Prude" and list "The People's Demands," taped to a wall
Notices protesting the police killing of Daniel Prude, seen on the exterior walls of Rochester City Hall on Sept. 8. Joshua Rashaad McFadden/Getty Images

The Rochester police officers involved in the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man having a mental health crisis, will not face charges after a grand jury declined to indict the officers Tuesday. The officers, responding to a call in March 2020 by Prude’s brother, handcuffed and placed a hood over the 41-year-old’s head, before pinning him to the ground in the middle of the street. In a matter of minutes, Prude, who had recently been hospitalized for mental health issues, stopped breathing, and ultimately died of asphyxiation a week later in a local hospital. The father of five was naked at the time of the arrest. “I placed a phone call to get my brother help,” Prude’s brother, Joe, told reporters last year, “not to have my brother lynched.”

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In the immediate aftermath of Prude’s death, Rochester police’s response reeked of a cover-up. Police and city officials conspired to keep the officer bodycam video of the arrest that led to Prude’s death from going public. For months, law enforcement’s account of Prude’s death held that he had overdosed on PCP, even after the county medical examiner ruled the death a homicide due to asphyxiation stemming from physical restraint. In response, seven officers were suspended, the police chief was fired, and other city officials were reprimanded, before an investigation by the city’s Office of Public Integrity concluded that no city employee had done anything wrong. None of the officers or officials involved in Prude’s death had “violated city or departmental policies or ethical standards,” the investigation found. And therein lies the problem.

“The system failed Daniel Prude,” Elliot Shields, a lawyer for the Prude family, said Tuesday. “It failed him when he was released from the hospital, it failed him when the police responded and used deadly force against him, and it failed him again today.” “The criminal justice system has demonstrated an unwillingness to hold law enforcement officers accountable in the unjustified killing of unarmed African Americans,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in an emotional news conference. “What binds these cases is the tragic loss of life in circumstances in which the death could be avoided.”

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