Daniel Prude case: 7 Rochester officers suspended by mayor

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The mayor of Rochester, New York, on Thursday announced the suspension of seven police officers involved in the asphyxiation death of a Black man who was placed in a hood and pinned to the ground in March.

Mayor Lovely Warren said the officers were suspended with pay, and rebuked Rochester police Chief La’Ron Singletary for his handling of the case, the Democrat and Chronicle reported. Three of the officers -- Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay and Francisco Santiago -- were named in a police report obtained by the attorney representing the family of Daniel T. Prude, WROC reported.

Prude, 41, of Chicago, was visiting his family in March when police encountered him running naked through the streets during the early morning hours of March 23, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.

Prude, who was on life support, died March 30. Prude’s family obtained written reports and police body camera footage through a public records request and released that information through their attorneys on Wednesday, WROC reported.

“I am suspending the officers in question today against (the city) council’s advice, and I urge the (state) attorney general to complete her investigation,” Warren said at a news conference. “I understand that the union may sue the city for this, they shall feel free to do so -- I have been sued before.”

The suspensions were the first taken since Prude’s death. On Wednesday, New York State Attorney General Letitia James offered condolences to Prude’s family as she commented on the case for the first time, The New York Times reported. James promised “a fair and independent investigation,” adding that her office “will work tirelessly to provide the transparency and accountability that all our communities deserve,” the newspaper reported.

An autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Prude’s death a homicide, WHAM reported. The cause of death was listed as “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” excited delirium and acute phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication.

Warren’s announcement came hours after members of the Rochester City Council sent her a letter, calling for stronger actions in the wake of Prude’s death, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.

“We are saddened and shocked by the images and information shared with City Council and our community,” the letter said.

Videos showed Prude, who had removed his clothes, obeying a police order to sit on the ground and put his hands behind his back. After Prude shouted for a few minutes, police officers put a “spit hood” over his head. The hood is intended to protect officers from a person’s saliva; New York was in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic when Daniel Prude was detained.

At least three officers held Prude prone and forced his head and chest onto the pavement for several moments, the Democrat and Chronicle reported. After a few minutes, police noticed Prude was not breathing, the newspaper reported. He was taken to an area hospital and put on life support.

City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot said the city also should drop charges against demonstrators who were protesting Wednesday against the police department’s actions, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.

“Yesterday was an emotionally charged day,” the City Council’s letter said. “We do not need any militaristic outfitting and use of pepper balls at this incredibly sensitive time for our community. Peaceful protesting is a critical part of our community grieving process.”

“The only way we can confront systemic racism in our city is to face it head-on,” Warren told reporters. “There can not be a justice system for white people and a justice system for Black people.”