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Attorneys for Suspended RPD Officers Address Daniel Prude Case

Patti Singer

Attorneys Matthew Rich, far left, James Nobles, Michael Schiano and Daniel Mastrella represent the seven Rochester Police Department officers suspended in the Daniel Prude case. They listen to a question during a news conference Oct. 1, 2020. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

The Rochester Police officers who restrained Daniel Prude acted according to their training, according to the attorneys representing the seven suspended officers.

Attorneys James Nobles, Daniel Mastrella, Michael Schiano and Matthew Rich spoke at the Rochester Police Locust Club Oct. 1.

Rich said that while Daniel Prude’s death was a tragedy, it was “not the result of anything the officers did or did not do.”

Nobles said the attorneys would continue investigating and would present more information as it became available. “No one has spoken out for these seven individuals, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

During the news conference, several members of Free the People Roc gathered in the parking lot of the Locust Club building. There were reports that four people, including a young teenager, were arrested. On Oct. 2, Rochester Police said the following were arrested for trespassing and issued appearance tickets: Ashley Gantt, 34, Amanda Flannery, 33, Mary Adams, 54, and Ricardo Adams, 65.

It was the most recent protest since the public learned on Sept. 2 of Daniel Prude’s death in March. Throughout the month, protesters have called for justice for Daniel Prude.

Asked what that would look like, Nobles said, “Your question is an opinion question, and my opinion is justice for Daniel Prude is that we change the system in a way that’s fair to everybody.”

Nobles said that he and his colleagues – all criminal defense attorneys — have seen systemic racism, “but it’s not necessarily what happened on (March 23).”

While the attorneys acknowledged that the Monroe County Medical Examiner said the manner of death was homicide, Rich said the root cause was Daniel Prude’s “voluntary ingestion of PCP.”

The medical examiner’s report said the cause of death was “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delirium due to acute phencyclidine intoxication.”

The attorneys said the medical opinion is not the same as a legal conclusion.

Schiano said the purpose of the news conference was “to show what happened that night and why the officers acted the way they did.”

The attorneys addressed the events from 3:16 a.m. March 23 when the first officer arrived to 3:27 a.m., when Daniel Prude was transferred to the ambulance.

They later provided a flash drive to the media that included body camera footage of one mental hygiene arrest of Daniel Prude at his brother’s house and the second on Jefferson Avenue; a Facebook video posted by a person driving who sees and talks to Daniel Prude; training manuals and information about the technique used to restrain him; and biographies of the officers.

The attorneys said that of the seven officers, only Francisco Santiago, Troy Talady and Mark Vaughn had physical contact with Daniel Prude. Rich said two of his clients were not at the scene where restraint was used.

The attorneys addressed issues that have been the focus of media reports and social media comments:

  • The restraining technique: Called segmenting, the technique is part of the state Department of Criminal Justice Services protocol for restraining movement. Mastrella said it uses the least amount of force and does not restrict the person’s airway. The attorneys showed a video on how the technique is taught. The attorneys said that the technique remains in use, but that a review of systems should include a review of training.
  • Why officers did not cover Daniel Prude: “It’s a logical thing to think, why wouldn’t they put a blanket on him,” Nobles said. RPD cars do not have blankets. He also said that Daniel Prude’s use of PCP had caused him to become overheated “and covering him would have done far more harm than good.”
  • Why they didn’t put him a police car: Nobles said that in terms of temperature, that would have been the same as covering him. Also, it would have meant more contact by placing him the car and then moving him again to the ambulance.
  • That the spit sock impeded his breathing: A spit sock is made of thin mesh, about the texture of a hair net and about the size of a paper grocery bag. Nobles put one over his head as he said that spit socks are commonly used in hospitals, by psychiatric centers and by law enforcement. “You can see through it, hear through it, breathe through it.”
  • Why officers did not release their hold as body camera footage showed he appeared to be compliant: Nobles said that in the half hour before police encountered Daniel Prude, he was erratic. He had allegedly tried to break into a car and had allegedly broken windows of a store, and reports from his family was that he had been suicidal earlier it the day. “They did not go hands on with Daniel Prude because they wanted to. … They’re in no position where they can leave him alone.”

The Rev. Lewis Stewart, who did not attend the news conference, later issued a statement that faulted the attorney’s premise.

“… We know that police procedures considered to be by the book is often faulty and much more so in the hands of imperfect police officers,” he wrote. “Their statement of events still must be questioned; it resolves nothing. Police procedures in the past ‘chokeholds’ etc. have been deemed invalid because they are inhumane. There is no reason to believe that this procedure is humane.”

After the news conference, Stanley Martin of Free the People Roc took issue with the attorneys saying the death was caused by drugs. “Any attempt to smear Daniel Prude’s character will be met with resistance and demanding that they be held accountable.”

Danielle Ponder, who works in the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office as diversity and inclusion officer, said the protesters posed no harm, that the police did not de-escalate and that taxpayers would foot the bill for cases that likely will be dismissed.

This story was updated Oct. 2 with the names of individuals arrested.

James Nobles, attorney for suspended RPD officer Mark Vaughn, talks through a spit sock. Police placed a spit sock over the head of Daniel Prude. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group
The training video of the technique used on Daniel Prude is shown during a news conference held by the attorneys for the seven suspended RPD officers. Attorney Daniel Mastrella listens as the video is explained. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group
Protesters talk to an RPD officer after a person was handcuffed and placed in the car during a protest Oct. 1, 2020 after attorneys for suspended RPD officers held a news conference at the Rochester Police Locust Club. Photo by Patti Singer.Minority Reporter Media Group
A woman is handcuffed while in the parking lot of the Rochester Police Locust Club after a news conference convened by the attorneys for the officers suspended in the Daniel Prude case. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group