Seven police officers in Rochester, New York, have been suspended with pay following the release of body camera footage in the March death of, the city’s mayor, Lovely Warren, announced Thursday.
The footage, released Wednesday, showed police putting a hood on the 41-year-old’s head and shoving his face into the ground for three minutes while he was naked and handcuffed. Prude’s death was largely unknown until his family released the footage and police documents surrounding his death.
“Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police department, our mental health care system, our society, and he was failed by me,” Warren told reporters Thursday, adding, “I am suspending the officers in question today, against the advice of counsel.”
“I understand that the union may sue the city for this,” she said. “They shall feel free to do so.”
Warren did not name the officers who were suspended. She claimed that Police Chief La’Ron Singletary originally told her Prude died of an overdose in police custody, and said she didn’t see video of the incident until August 4.
“l have addressed with Police Chief LaRon Singletary how deeply disappointed I am in him personally and professionally for failing to fully and accurately inform me about what occurred to Mr. Prude,” Warren said. “He knows he needs to do better to truly protect and serve our community and I know he will.”
Warren’s decision comes after footage of the incident sparked outrage in Rochester and across the nation. The footage showed officers approaching Prude, who was kneeling naked in the street, at approximately 3:15 a.m. on March 23. The officers handcuffed Prude and put him in a “spit sock” — a hood over his head designed to protect officers from saliva — before shoving his face into the ground for more than three minutes.
Prude died seven days later of “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” as well as “excited delirium” and PCP intoxication, according to a report from the medical examiner. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.
Prude’s brother Joe called police on the morning of March 23 to help Prude, who was suffering from what the family lawyer described as a “an acute, manic, psychotic episode.” His brother on Wednesday condemned the officers’ actions, telling reporters, “I placed the phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched.”
Prude’s 18-year-old daughter Tashyra also decried her father’s death. “I’m still waiting on him to call me and say, ‘I’m coming home,'” she said in a conference call. “To know that I will never get that is breaking my heart.”
Rochester Police documents released by Prude’s family show that Joe had told officers that Prude had run out of the house that night after he had been hospitalized earlier in the day for suicidal ideation. Warren also criticized the hospital for releasing Prude hours after his family had him hospitalized that day, calling it another “failure” that led to his death.
At a press conference Wednesday, Warren and Singletary said they had turned their investigations over to New York Attorney General Letitia James, which was required under a 2015 executive order that governs how cases of unarmed men dying in police custody are investigated.
The New York Attorney General’s office confirmed it was investigating the case, but said Thursday that “we have not asked the city of Rochester nor the Rochester Police Department (RPD) to refrain from launching an internal investigation.”
“In fact, we encourage both Rochester and the RPD to proceed with an internal review simultaneous to our investigation,” the office said.
Warren said Thursday that this was a change in the attorney general’s stance. “Therefore, we will proceed, and that is why we have suspended these officers,” she said.
She also claimed she wanted to come forward to the public as soon as she was made aware of the full situation, but said her law department told her the attorney general’s office had asked them not to do anything until their investigation was complete.
Rochester’s police union said earlier Thursday that it “has concerns about the incident involving our members and Mr. Daniel Prude,” and that it is in the process of gathering information. The union declined to comment about the suspensions.
The family’s Wednesday announcement sparked protests in Rochester, and several activists were arrested, according to CBS affiliate WROC. More protests were planned for Thursday.
Jericka Duncan contributed reporting.