Yet another grand jury has voted not to indict New York cops accused of killing a Black man after being called to the scene to help him. Daniel Prude was naked, unarmed, and having a mental health crisis when Rochester police officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, and Francisco Santiago brutally apprehended him and placed him in a spit hood on March 23.
Attorney General Letitia James announced on Tuesday during a news conference that although her office determined “there was sufficient evidence” to present Prude’s case to a grand jury, the current laws on deadly force failed Prude. She called for the state to analyze the use of spit hoods in responding to those in mental health crises. “And while there is no evidence that the spit hood placed over Mr. Prude’s head directly contributed to his death, it clearly added to his stress and agitation,” James said during the news conference.
She explained that Prude was in a state of “excited delirium” and all police officers and emergency responders need to be trained to recognize the symptoms and respond to it “as the serious medical emergency it is.” When Daniel Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, called the police for help and officers responded, they joked about Daniel Prude’s state, the racial justice organization Free the People Roc reported in a Facebook post.
“While cuffed, naked, and laying on the freezing cold ground, RPD officers mocked Daniel Prude and cracked jokes, and put a bag over his head,” the organization said. “RPD officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Talladay, and Francisco Santiago then proceeded to swarm him. While Talladay forced his knee into Daniel’s back and Santiago held down his legs, Vaughn pushed Daniel’s head into the ground using all of his body weight—essentially doing a triangle pushup on his head. Less than ten minutes after he was cuffed, Daniel Prude breathed his last conscious breath.”
James said in follow-up social media postings that she is pursuing reform in “a multifaceted approach including legislation” to hold officers accountable when they improperly use deadly force. “Daniel Prude was in the throes of a mental health crisis, and what he needed was compassion, care, and help from trained professionals,” she said in a tweet. She added that a judge has granted her office’s motion to release the grand jury proceedings in the case. “This is a critical step in effecting the change that is so desperately needed,” James tweeted. “The public deserves to know what transpires behind closed doors. As soon as the judge authorizes, my office will release those proceedings so the Prude family, the Rochester community, and communities across the country will no longer be kept in the dark.”
James released a 204-page comprehensive report on Daniel Prude’s death on Tuesday. In the report, her office included a summary of Monroe County Medical Examiner Dr. Nadia Granger’s determination that Daniel Prude died due to “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraints; excited delirium; and acute phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication.” James’ office also included the opinion of Dr. Gary Vilke, an expert in restraint-related deaths, in its report. He and the medical examiner noted that people suffering from excited delirium are “particularly vulnerable to death by cardiac arrest” and “he further concluded that it was this – cardiac arrest – that ultimately caused Mr. Prude’s death,” according to James’ report.
The U.S. Justice Department announced on Tuesday in a statement it would be reviewing James’ report to determine if “any further federal response is warranted.” Interim Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan also said in a statement Tuesday that an internal investigation into the incident is ongoing. “The officers will remain on leave pending the outcome of the internal investigation,” she said. Herriott-Sullivan asked the public to respect the grand jury’s decision. She was sworn in last October after former Police Chief La’Ron Singletary retired, along with Deputy Chief Joe Morabito and Commander Fabian Rivera in the wake of protests after the public first learned of Daniel Prude’s death. The grand jury’s decision in this case has sparked calls for reform and new protests in Rochester.
The Rochester Police Department is the same department that pepper-sprayed a 9-year-old Black girl who refused to sit in an officer’s car. “You’re acting like a child,” one of the officers told the girl. “I am a child,” she responded.
Shani Wilson, chairperson of the Rochester Police Accountability Board (PAB), said in a statement Tuesday that the city has a history of failing to deliver justice for Black and brown people targeted by police and that failure is why the community ultimately voted to create the board seeking greater police accountability. The board was, however, stripped of funding and its disciplinary powers, the latter being a state Supreme Court response to a lawsuit from the city’s police union, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported. “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,” Wilson said in the statement.
The New York Working Families Party, a political party pursuing a progressive agenda, called for new laws to hold police accountable, including an end to qualified immunity. The phrase refers to a legal protection freeing government officials from guilt in lawsuits unless they have violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right, according to Cornell Law School. “New York needs new laws and processes to ensure police officers are held accountable for violence and abuse of any kind — and that includes ending qualified immunity once and for all,” the political party tweeted.