Lawyers representing the seven Rochester police officers suspended with pay during an investigation into the death of Daniel Prude said Thursday the events leading up to the man’s death were not being portrayed fully and they called for at least two of the embroiled cops to be reinstated.
“These officers are being mistreated, we believe, unfairly,” said attorney Michael Schiano, who represents one of the officers involved. “Their lives have been threatened, there are bounties placed on their heads.”
Attorneys spoke on behalf of the suspended Rochester Police Department employees on Thursday at the city’s Police Locust Club, to explain “exactly what happened that day from the officers’ point of view,” and where they defended the alleged actions or inaction of the officers, in part, by pointing to the police department’s training protocol.
“These officers are trained specifically when dealing with someone that’s under the influence of PCP where they cannot control him, they’re taught to segment … for his own safety,” Schiano, who represents RPD Officer Francisco Santiago, said. “The officers did what they were trained to do.”
All RPD officers have been trained in segmenting, a procedure used in certain situations, such as a “hostile” environment, in which one officer holds the suspect’s head to the ground, while another holds their hips from on top of them.
Prude, 41, died roughly one week after his early encounter with police on March 23, but his name and death did not become national news until just last month when a video of the incident was made public by Prude’s family.
Prude was from Chicago and traveled to Rochester on March 22 to visit his brother. According to a previously released internal affairs investigator’s report, Prude was kicked off the train before it arrived in Rochester for “his unruly behavior.”
Hours later, Prude was taken to the hospital before going to his brother’s home. Around 3 a.m. on March 23, he ran out of his brother’s back door.
Police met up with Prude soon after he allegedly went to a phone store where police believe he “threw a cinder block through the store window before being spotted by a tow truck driver.” Police said the tow truck driver described Prude as being naked, covered in blood, and said he had told the driver he had the coronavirus.
The body camera footage shows that after Prude was handcuffed and lying on the ground, he could be heard shrieking and yelling for several minutes before he began to go silent. Police could be heard commenting that he appeared to have vomited water. They then realized he appeared to have stopped breathing.
Someone who is believed to be a paramedic can be heard in the video saying Prude was likely experiencing “excited delirium” as a result of the PCP that he was believed to have taken.
“I guarantee you that’s why he coded,” the woman can be heard saying.
The seven officers were suspended shortly after the video’s circulation. In addition to Santiago, they are Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Andrew Specksgoor, Paul Ricotta, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri, according to local news station WROC.
Chief La’Ron Singletary, of the Rochester police, was subsequently removed from his post.
Schiano said Thursday the officers were on scene between 3:16 a.m. and 3:27 a.m., and officers received word ahead of time that he had been acting erratically and was believed to have been under the influence of PCP.
“Officers have told and made statements that this individual was reaching for the gun, wanted the gun to shoot himself, making all kinds of comments that he wanted to kill himself with their weapon,” Schiano continued. “They had to do two things: protect Mr. Prude, make sure that he was safe, [an] ambulance was on its way, [an] ambulance was there within four minutes of this all occurring.”
He emphasized the date of the call, at “the height of the coronavirus,” and Prude’s previous alleged statements that he had COVID-19 as the reason why the “spit-sock” was needed.
“Again, he’s screaming and yelling that he has coronavirus, he has feces on himself, he’s covered with blood,” Schiano added. “These officers had to protect themselves also, and that’s what happened that day.”
James Nobles, who was there on behalf of Vaughn, doubled down on the officers’ use of the “spit-sock.”
“It is used every day in hospitals across this country, by paramedics, by psychological centers, by jails, by law enforcement every single day. You can see through it, you can hear through it, you can breathe through it,” Nobles said. “I can tell you that after being required to wear masks in public for the last several months that I can breathe better through this than I can through any mask that I’ve worn.”
Nobles also touched on the argument that officers should have given Prude a blanket, saying his temperature had already been too high as a result of his PCP use.
“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 far more harm than 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.”
The lawyers identified the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s report as “medical opinion,” rather than fact, and pointed to PCP as causing Prude’s death.
Their suspicion differs from the office’s report, which concluded that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” and further lists excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, as contributing factors.
Attorney Matthew Rich, who represents Specksgoor, Ricotta, Harris and Magri, demanded Specksgoor and Ricotta be immediately allowed to return to duty, saying neither was directly involved in the tactics leading up to Prude’s loss of consciousness.
Ricotta “was not even at the scene on Jefferson avenue, instead, he was still at the scene of the break-in” that Prude is alleged to have participated in. “So he wasn’t even there,” Rich said.
“Officer Specksgoor was on the scene at Jefferson Avenue, however at the time the defensive tactic was applied, he was in his patrol car and could not see what was happening.”
Protests flared in the city and elsewhere in the nation in the wake of Prude’s death. A handful of demonstrators were arrested on Thursday outside the building where the press conference was being held, WROC.com reported.
The lawyer representing Prude’s family did not immediately provide Fox News with a statement.
“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,” Nobles said, “but these officers did exactly what they were trained to do and they did it flawlessly.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.