Daniel Prude was left brain dead after the incident and later died on March 30 after he was taken off of life support – seven days after the encounter with police in Rochester
A 41-year-old handcuffed black man who had run naked through the streets of a western New York city died of asphyxiation after a group of laughing police officers put a hood over his head, then pressed his face into the pavement until he stopped breathing.
Daniel Prude was left brain dead after the incident and later died on March 30 when he was taken off of life support – seven days after the encounter with police in Rochester.
The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, caused by ‘complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint, excited delirium [and] acute phencyclidine [PCP] intoxication.’
While the fatal incident occurred on March 23 – weeks before George Floyd would die in Minnesota police custody in May, sparking nationwide protests – Prude’s death received no public attention.
However, that changed on Wednesday when his family held a news conference to reveal disturbing police body camera footage of Prude’s final moments, along with written reports they obtained through a public records request.
‘I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched,’ Prude´s brother, Joe Prude, said at a 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?’
While the fatal incident occurred on March 23 – weeks before George Floyd would die in Minnesota police custody in May, sparking nationwide protests – Prude’s death received no public attention
The deadly encounter began at 3:15am on March 23, when Joe Prude dialled 911 to summon assistance for his brother, who was suffering an acute mental health episode on the 400 Block of Jefferson Avenue.
Prude had left his brothers home moments earlier wearing only long underwear, a tank top and socks. He then began making his way down West Main Street and removing the rest of his clothes.
Police said they believed Prude had been smashing windows down West Main as he walked, before officers encountered him. A number of bystanders cross paths with him before officers arrived, with at least one dialing 911 to report his erratic behaviour.
Prude was then stopped by an officer from the Rochester PD Officer Mark Vaughn at 3:16pm. Vaughn, pointing a taser, ordered him to lay on the ground and put his hands behind his back, to which he complied.
Officer Vaughn then handcuffed Prude as he lay on his stomach. Prude then begins to yell and spit as he lies completely naked on the snow covered ground.
Around three and a half minutes into the body camera footage, one of the officer places a mesh hood over his head, after he attempted to spit at officers, allegedly telling him he had COVID-19. New York, once the US epicentre of the virus, was then in the early stages of the pandemic.
A delirious Prude is then heard yelling incoherently at the officers, shouting ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Give me your gun, I need it’, he shouts. At one point, he invites officers to ‘come and look at this big d***,’ to which the cops on scene laugh at.
Officers stood around Prude in a semicircle, body camera footage shows. Prude demanded they remove the spit hood, saying, ‘trying to kill me!,’ before making muffled, anguished sounds under the hood.
Prude continued to yell at officers and at one point attempted to get to his feet. Officers were seen pushing him back over and then slamming his head into the ground.
For nearly three minutes, officers pinned Prude down on the cold ground. One officer used both hands to push the side of Prude’s head into the pavement, similar to a triangle push-up. Another officer used his knee at one point to hold down Prude’s torso, and a third held down his legs.
Prude is heard screaming under the weight of the officers pinning him down, however his words are muffled as his face is pushed hard into the ground. Officers are heard urging him to ‘stop spitting’.
The officers appear to become concerned when they notice water coming out of Prude’s mouth.
‘Is he puking? Ugh, he’s puking, just straight water. You see all that water that came out of his mouth? My man, you puking?’ Officer Troy Talladay appears to say.
‘Oh man look at his f***ing…’ Talladay continues, before being cut off by laughter heard in the background of the video.
The 41-year-old then suddenly falls deathly silent and still, having lost consciousness under the restraint.
One officer notes that he’s been out, naked, in the street for some time. Another remarks, ‘He feels pretty cold.’
When EMTs arrive on scene, the officers unhandcuff Prude, roll him on his back and attempt chest compression after realizing he has no pulse.
The EMT tells cops not to worry since PCP causes ‘excited delirium’ and says ‘I guarantee you that’s why he coded,’ adding, ‘It’s not your fault guys.’
The medics continue performing CPR on Prude before he’s loaded into an ambulance, some 11 minutes after he first encountered police.
He was taken to the hospital and placed on life support, where he was later pronounced brain dead. He died on March 30.
Attorney Elliot Shields, who is representing Prude’s family, said he obtained 80 minutes of body camera footage from an open-records request filed with the city of Rochester. Shields said none of the officers, as far as he’s aware, have been disciplined in relation to Prude’s death.
During a news conference Wednesday, Shields said that the Prude family ‘will sue everyone who is responsible for Daniel Prude’s death.’
Prude, of Chicago, had arrived in Rochester via Amtrack train on March 22 to stay with his brother. 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 7pm that day 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.
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 [the AG´s office] has completed their investigation.’
Activists are demanding that officers involved with Prude’s death 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 de-escalate. 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.
Protesters gathered Wednesday outside Rochester´s Public Safety Building, which serves as police headquarters. Demonstrators remained as night fell.
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 big 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.