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Prude Case Forces Change in Attorney General’s Policy on Release of Body Cam Footage

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

New York state Attorney General Letitia James at Aenon Missionary Baptist Church, Sept. 20, 2020. Video by Patti Singer Media

New York state Attorney General Letitia James said her office will release body camera footage earlier in investigations of officer-involved deaths of unarmed civilians.

New York state Attorney General Letitia James answers questions at a news conference Sept. 20, 2020 at Aenon Missionary Baptist Church. Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

James made the announcement in a news conference at Aenon Missionary Baptist Church Sept. 20, after she had delivered a speech to congregants about reform.

The shift to greater openness in the Office of the Attorney General comes after delays and confusion over whether Rochester officials could release the footage that showed the fatal encounter between Rochester Police Department officers and Daniel Prude.

James visited Rochester on the day Prude would have turned 42. She said that earlier in the morning, she met with the Prude family and with protesters who’ve been calling for systemic change. She had been in Buffalo the day before, and she said both visits were about healing.

James said she promised justice to the Prude family. She declined to say what evidence would be presented to a grand jury or what charges are being brought.

“I will not predetermine the outcome,” she said. “I will not guarantee you an outcome. But I will guarantee you fairness. I will guarantee you that we’ll be thorough. I will guarantee you that we will be transparent to the extent that we can.”

Openness is an issue in the Prude case. City Council hired an attorney to conduct an independent investigation and on Sept. 18 voted to give him power to subpoena. Andrew Celli Jr. will be looking into whether Rochester officials were forthcoming with what they knew of the March 23 incident in which officers restrained Prude and he stopped breathing.

The video was not released until the family went public on Sept. 2. Rochester officials had said they were told by a member of the attorney general’s office that they could not release the video because of the attorney general’s investigation. James said she’s confident that no one in her office would suggest that the city suppress the video.

James announced a policy that would clear up any confusion. “The Office of the Attorney General will now be proactively releasing video footage to the public on our own,” she said. “We will no longer wait for local authorities to determine when video should be made available to the public.”

She said video would be released as soon as it is shown to the family of the deceased, mindful of privacy regulations. “We will move as swiftly as possible so that the public no longer has to wait months and months before seeing video in possession of law enforcement. This new policy will help prevent instances where the public has been kept in the dark for far too long, such as what happened in the Prude case.”

James also said her office is considering a civil rights case against the Rochester Police for conduct against protesters. She said the office is setting up a link for protesters to send documents, video or testimony.

Several members of Free the People Roc attended the news conference. Stanley Martin said afterward that the group would hold James accountable. “She said a lot of things but we’re looking forward to action.”