Feds to review Rochester man’s death

New York state Attorney General Letitia “Tish” A. James speaks during an editorial meeting at the Watertown Daily Times office in Watertown. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

ROCHESTER — The U.S. Department of Justice will review state Attorney General Letitia James’s report and a grand jury’s decision Tuesday to not criminally charge any city police in the restraining death of Daniel Prude.

The review will help determine federal action.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI will analyze the grand jury’s decision to not file charges against Rochester police officers after Prude, a Black man with mental health issues, was restrained in law enforcement custody March 23, 2020.

James’ office released a 204-page report Tuesday and concluded the state investigation into several officers involved with the case.

Prude, who experienced a mental health crisis — or drug-induced “excited delirium” that often leads to erratic behavior and increased heart rate — suffered cardiac arrest while in police custody and was later declared brain dead. He died March 30 after being removed from life support.

Monroe County Medical Examiner Dr. Nadia Granger performed an autopsy and ruled Prude’s manner of death a homicide, and causes of death to be complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint, excited delirium and acute phencyclidine intoxication, according to the attorney general’s report.

Excited delirium often leads to increased heart rate, which can put individuals at risk of death if subjected to stressful conditions, according to the attorney general’s office.

Joe Prude called 911 just before 3 a.m. March 23 to report his brother, Daniel, had run from his home wearing only pants and a T-shirt without shoes and was on hallucinogen PCP. Joe Prude informed police his brother had been released from Strong Memorial Hospital hours earlier after being suicidal, according to the report.

Daniel Prude traveled 1 mile on foot in freezing weather before Rochester police stopped him.

A tow truck driver later called 911 to report a man “with blood all over him” was running down Jefferson Avenue. As Daniel Prude ran down the street, he removed his pants, becoming naked, and remaining unclothed for the remainder of the incident.

Police officer Mark Vaughn located Daniel Prude on Jefferson Avenue, directed him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Daniel Prude complied and was handcuffed. Other officers arrived on scene, according to the report.

“None of the officers made any attempt to connect with Mr. Prude, who grew more agitated,” according to the report. “After Mr. Prude began spitting, the officers placed a spit sock over his head, which seemed to further agitate Mr. Prude.”

Vaughn, as well as Patrol Officers Troy Taladay and Francisco Santiago, forced Daniel Prude to the ground and held him there by “segmenting,” or using a stabilization technique they had been taught at RPD in-service training. An ambulance arrived shortly afterward.

Daniel Prude fell silent and vomited while medical staff discussed treatment. Vaughn noticed he did not appear to be breathing and officers rolled him to his side. He regained a pulse after EMTs performed CPR, but never regained consciousness, according to the report.

“Responding officers knew that Mr. Prude was experiencing a mental health crisis, yet the officers who ultimately restrained Mr. Prude were largely unfamiliar with how to handle this type of medical emergency,” James said Tuesday during a press conference.

A judge granted James’ motion to release the grand jury proceedings that led to the decision to not file charges in Daniel Prude’s death, according to a statement from the attorney general’s office Tuesday night.

Rochester police use spit socks made of mesh that loosely fit around a person’s head.

“In this case, there was no evidence that the spit sock placed over Mr. Prude’s head directly contributed to his death — there was no evidence that the spit sock impeded Mr. Prude’s airflow or impaired his circulation,” James said Tuesday. “However, it clearly added to his stress and agitation, and it is unknown as to whether that further contributed to his death. In light of this, agencies should investigate whether alternatives to traditional spit socks, such as plastic face coverings worn by officers, might be a better alternative when dealing with highly agitated subjects.”

Law enforcement, EMS and hospital workers commonly use spit socks to restrict the flow of saliva from one person to another to reduce the spread of disease.

James and members of her office continue to have serious concerns about Rochester police conduct, she said.

Each officer involved in Daniel Prude’s case was interviewed by members of the attorney general’s office and appeared with his attorney before presentation to the grand jury Tuesday.

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