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Attorney General Announces No Indictments in Death of Daniel Prude

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Attorney General Letitia James on Feb. 23, 2021 at Aenon Missionary Baptist Church announced a grand jury voted to not indict Rochester Police Officers in the death of Daniel Prude. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

After a grand jury voted not to indict any Rochester Police Department officer on charges related to the death of Daniel Prude, New York state Attorney General Letitia James issued four recommendations to improve the response to a person in a mental health crisis.

James called for training so that first responders treat excited delirium as a medical emergency, all communities should consider minimizing police response to mental health calls, the state should mandate de-escalation training and law enforcement should consider alternatives to spit socks.

Investigations into Daniel Prude’s death reported that he had ingested PCP, which can lead to the state of excited delirium, and the officers used a spit sock to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

James announced the grand jury’s decision Feb. 23 at a news conference at Aenon Missionary Baptist Church. She began her remarks by saying that when she spoke at the church in September, she pledged to do “everything in my power to ensure justice was served in the death of Daniel Prude.”

After announcing the grand jury’s decision, she said “I know that the Prude family and the Rochester community and communities across the country will rightfully be disappointed by this outcome.”

She said her office presented an extensive case “and we sought a different outcome than the one the grand jury handed us today. We made every attempt to demonstrate the facts but ultimately we have to respect the decision.”

Reaction came quickly from across the community, including:

  • Police Accountability Board Chairperson Shani Wilson: “… Throughout our city’s history, criminal prosecutions have failed to deliver justice for Black and Brown people harmed by police. … Every failure to deliver justice for officer wrongdoing proves that the PAB needs to have its disciplinary powers returned, its investigations unimpeded, and its work fully funded.”
  • Rev. Lewis Stewart of United Christian Leadership Ministry: “I am extremely disappointed and angry. Mr. Prude unnecessarily died while in the custody of RPD, because the law enforcement officers present aided and abetted his death. … The City must urgently put into place mental health, protocols and components to insure that what happened to Daniel Prude will never happen to anyone else again. …”
  • City Council President Loretta Scott and Vice-President Willie Lightfoot: ” …While we cannot change the decision of the grand jury, we can continue to seek justice for Daniel Prude. Tonight we call on Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan to pursue disciplinary actions against the officers involved in his death, including the possible termination of these officers. We must continue the efforts in our community to reform our public safety system, and ensure that we create a system that values human life and recognizes and responds appropriately to situations involving individuals in need of mental health services.”

The attorneys for the legal representative of Daniel Prude’s estate issued a statement that he would pursue a civil case.

Interim Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said the RPD Professional Standards Section is continuing its internal investigation and the officers remain on leave pending the outcome.

Free the People Roc organized a protest that started about three hours after James’ announced the decision.

The organization posted a statement on Facebook that read in part: “Today’s decision not to indict any of the officers involved in the murder of Daniel Prude reminds us that this system was never meant to protect Black and brown people. … The outcome was not unexpected, but it hurts. It’s insulting, humiliating, and designed to reinforce this system of white supremacy and normalize violence against Black bodies. Attorney General Tish James stated that we should respect the decision of the jury, but that the system is broken beyond repair. We believe that the system is rotten and must be replaced. …”

James said she was “extremely disappointed” in the grand jury outcome and said the nation needs a conversation about the intersection of race and the criminal justice system.

She declined to say what crimes she thought the police officers committed, citing grand jury secrecy. However, several hours after she announced the grand jury finding, she issued a news release that a judge is allowing her to unseal and publicly release the grand jury minutes of the investigation. She said during the news conference that the archaic system needs to change in order to promote accountability.

Along with her announcement of the grand jury decision, James released a 204-page “Report on the Investigation in the Death of Daniel Prude.”

The first 50 pages are the most pertinent.

The evidence in the report was independent of the grand jury process and came about through pre-grand jury interviews as well as material obtained without the use of grand jury subpoenas.

The report started with Daniel Prude arriving in Cheektowaga after boarding an Amtrak train in Chicago en route to Rochester to see family and how his brother Joe went to Buffalo to pick him up at a shelter. The narrative details the two of them back at Joe Prude’s house and he noticing a change in Daniel Prude’s demeanor.

The report goes into the two 911 calls from Joe Prude and Daniel Prude’s admission to EMS after the first call that he had used PCP, marijuana and alcohol.

The narrative has details about his first visit to Strong Memorial Hospital on March 22, the second 911 call from his brother on March 23 and a minute-by-minute account of his actions and whereabouts, his encounters with civilians and his encounter with police and their reactions.

The report also provides details on six recommendations. In addition to the ones she listed during the news conference, she added using data to determine the most effective defensive tactics and having RPD release body-worn camera footage of critical incidents.

The report also contained explanations from the medical examiner about terms used in her report and reviews by an expert in police training and an expert in restraint-related death.

The report summarizes the findings of the Monroe County Medical Examiner, who reported the cause of death as complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint, excited delirium and acute phencyclidine intoxication.

The manner of death was ruled homicide, which in the medical sense means it happened due to the involvement of others. A criminal homicide is a distinct determination, according to the report.