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: 7 police officers suspended over Black man killed in custody in Rochester, N.Y.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The mayor of New York’s third largest city on Thursday suspended seven police officers involved in the suffocation death of Daniel Prude last March.

Prude, a 41-year-old Black man known to his Chicago-based family as “Rell,” died March 30 when his family took him off life support, seven days after officers who encountered him running naked through the street put a hood over his head to stop him from spitting, then held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced the suspension of the officers at a Thursday press conference.

“Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by the police department, our mental health care system, our society and he was failed by me,” Warren said.

Warren said she only became aware of the use of force on Aug. 4, and that Police Chief La’Ron Singletary initially portrayed Prude’s death as a drug overdose, which is “entirely different” than what she witnessed in body camera video. The mayor said she told the chief she was “deeply, personally and professionally disappointed” in his failure to accurately inform her what happened to Prude.

Warren said the seven officers would still be paid because of contract rules and that she was taking the action against the advise of counsel.

“I understand that the union may sue the city for this. They shall feel free to do so,” she said.

Warren did not announce any action against Singletary. Police spokeswoman Jackie Shuman did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.

Messages left with the union representing Rochester police officers were not immediately returned Thursday.

Prude’s death happened just as the coronavirus was raging out of control in New York and received no public attention at the time.

Wednesday, Prude’s family held a news conference and released police body camera video obtained through a public records request that captured his fatal interaction with the officers.

Prude had been taken to a Rochester hospital for a mental health evaluation about eight hours before the encounter that led to his death. He was released back into the care of his family and then abruptly ran into the street and took off his clothes.

Prude had been traumatized by the deaths of his mother and a brother in recent years, having lost another brother before that, his aunt Letoria Moore said in an interview. In his final months, he’d been going back and forth between his Chicago home and his brother’s place in Rochester because he wanted to be close to him, she said.

She knew her nephew had some psychological issues, she said. Still, when he called two days before his death, “he was the normal Rell that I knew,” Moore said.

“I didn’t know what was the situation, why he was going through what he was going through that night, but I know he didn’t deserve to be killed by the police,” she said.

When officers found Prude, they handcuffed him, put a hood over his head because he had been spitting, and then pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes, police video shows.

The hoods are intended to protect officers from a detainee’s saliva and have been scrutinized as a factor in the deaths of several prisoners in recent years.

The videos show Prude, his voice muffled by the hood, begging the white officer pushing his head down to let him go. As the officer, Mark Vaughn, says, “Calm down” and “Stop spitting,” Prude’s shouts became anguished whimpers and grunts.

“OK, stop. I need it. I need it,” he says.

The officer lets Prude go after about two minutes when he stops moving and falls silent. Officers then notice water coming out of Prude’s mouth and call over waiting medics, who start CPR.

A medical examiner concluded that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report lists excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, as contributing factors.

New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office took over the investigation of the death in April. It is ongoing.

Protesters demonstrated Wednesday at the police headquarters building in Rochester and at the spot where Prude died.

Activists are demanding that the officers involved be suspended and prosecuted on murder charges.

The man who suffocated after police in New York’s third-largest city put a “spit hood” over his head was the loving father of five adult children, had some mental health issues but was harmless, and had just arrived in Rochester for a visit with his brother, his aunt said.

Daniel Prude, 41, known to his big Chicago-based family by the nickname “Rell,” died March 30 after he was taken off life support, seven days after the encounter with police in Rochester. Prude, who is Black, was from Chicago.

Prude had been taken into custody for a mental health evaluation about eight hours before the encounter that led to his death. His death received no public attention until Wednesday, when his family held a news conference and released police body camera video and written reports they obtained through a public records request.

Prude had been traumatized by the deaths of his mother and a brother in recent years, having lost another brother before that, his aunt Letoria Moore said in an interview. In his final months, he’d been going back and forth between his Chicago home and his brother’s place in Rochester because he wanted to be close to him, she said.

She knew her nephew had some psychological issues, she said. Still, when he called two days before his death, “he was the normal Rell that I knew,” Moore said.

“I didn’t know what was the situation, why he was going through what he was going through that night, but I know he didn’t deserve to be killed by the police,” she said.

Prude ran naked through the streets of Rochester and died of asphyxiation after a group of police officers put the hood over his head and pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes, according to video and records.

One officer wrote that they put the white spit hood on Prude because he was spitting continuously in the direction of officers and they were concerned about coronavirus.

The hoods are intended to protect officers from a detainee’s saliva and have been scrutinized as a factor in the deaths of several prisoners in the U.S. and other countries in recent years.

The city halted its investigation into Prude’s death when state Attorney General Letitia James’ office began its own investigation in April. Under New York law, deaths of unarmed people in police custody are often turned over to the attorney general’s office, rather than handled by local officials. The state investigation continues.

“I want everyone to understand that at no point in time did we feel that this was something that we wanted not to disclose,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said at a news briefing. “We are precluded from getting involved in it until that agency has completed their investigation.”

Protesters gathered Wednesday evening outside the police headquarters building in Rochester, a city of 210,000 on Lake Ontario that is best known for being the longtime home of the photography company Kodak. Free the People ROC said several of its organizers were briefly taken into custody after they entered the building while Warren spoke.

They were released on appearance tickets, said Iman Abid, regional director of the NYCLU, who was among those taken into custody.

Demonstrators gathered at the spot where Prude died, chanting, dancing and praying. They stayed late into the night.

Activists are demanding that the officers involved be prosecuted on murder charges and that they be removed from the department while the investigation proceeds.

“The police have shown us over and over again that they are not equipped to handle individuals with mental health concerns. These officers are trained to kill, and not to deescalate. These officers are trained to ridicule, instead of supporting Mr. Daniel Prude,” Ashley Gantt of Free the People ROC said at the news conference with Prude’s family.

Calls to the union representing Rochester police officers, and to the organization’s attorney, rang unanswered Wednesday.

The videos show Prude, who had taken off his clothes, complying when police ask him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Prude is agitated and shouting as he sits on the pavement in handcuffs for a few moments as a light snow falls. “Give me your gun, I need it,” he shouts.

Then, they put the hood over his head, and Prude demands they remove it.

Then the officers slam Prude’s head into the street. One officer, who is white, holds his head down against the pavement with both hands, saying “calm down” and “stop spitting.” Another officer places a knee on his back.

“Trying to kill me!” Prude says, his voice becoming muffled and anguished under the hood.

“OK, stop. I need it. I need it,” the prone man begs before his shouts turn to whimpers and grunts.

The officers appear to become concerned after he stops moving, falls silent and they notice water coming out of Prude’s mouth.

“My man. You puking?” one says.

One officer notes that he’s been out, naked, in the street for some time. Another remarks, “He feels pretty cold.”

His head had been held down by an officer for just over two minutes, the video shows.

The officers then remove the hood and his handcuffs and medics can then be seen performing CPR before he is loaded into an ambulance.

A medical examiner concluded that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report lists excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, as contributing factors.

Rochester police officers took Prude into custody for a mental health evaluation around 7 p.m. on March 22 for suicidal thoughts — about eight hours before the encounter that led to his death. But his brother Joe Prude said he was only at the hospital for a few hours, according to the reports.

Police responded again after Joe Prude called 911 at about 3 a.m. to report that his brother had left his house.

“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe Prude said at the news conference. “How did you see him and not directly say, ‘The man is defenseless, buck naked on the ground. He’s cuffed up already. Come on.’ How many more brothers gotta die for society to understand that this needs to stop?”

The fatal encounter happened two months before the death of George Floyd in Minnesota prompted nationwide demonstrations. Floyd died when an officer put his knee on his neck for several minutes during an arrest.

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