Daniel Prude Grand Jury: ‘Justification’ mentioned multiple times before jurors voted

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Two months before we heard the name George Floyd, Daniel Prude was pinned to the pavement by three Rochester police officers. Prude died a week later when he was removed from life support at Strong Memorial Hospital.

News10NBC is still going through the more than 1,000 pages of grand jury testimony released mid-Friday afternoon.

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Monday, a lawyer for one of the police officers targeted by the grand jury investigation said one of the state’s expert witnesses is someone he would have called to defend the police.

In the grand jury transcript, an expert in police custody deaths—whose name was redacted—testified Prude appeared to suffer "sudden cardiac arrest" and "none of the officers, their impact, individually or collectively, would have caused or contributed to that cardiac arrest."

"Quite frankly we would have called the same experts to testify on our officer’s behalf if they were indicted," attorney Mike Schiano said.

Schiano is the lawyer for the officer who held Prude’s legs to the ground.

The Attorney General’s Office countered by pointing out another expert who testified the police were reasonable in taking Prude to the ground but who testified "they should have turned him over" and keeping Prude on his stomach was "unreasonable and against police practice."

The AG’s office says the goal of the grand jury was not to indict the officers.

"The purpose of impaneling this grand jury was to investigate the death of Daniel Prude," the AG’s office told me.

On day one of testimony, the jurors were told "this is an investigation."

Five months later, prosecutors asked the grand jury to consider criminally negligent homicide and when jurors vote 15 to 5 and said no, Attorney General Tish James said "we sought a different outcome than the one the grand jury handed us today."

"[I’m] not surprised by what I’ve read but extremely disappointed," attorney Matt Piers said.

Piers is the attorney for the estate of Daniel Prude and its beneficiaries—Prude’s children. They’re filing a civil rights lawsuit against the city, the police and the officers.

"And to attempt to justify that death as something that was caused by drugs as opposed to the conduct of the police requires you to put out of your mind what was documented on the video tape." Piers said.

The transcript of the Prude grand jury investigation is more than 1,000 pages, and just before the jurors made their decision, they peppered the prosecutors with questions.

Brean: "What do you think the jury was trying to get at?"

Matt Rich, attorney for RPD officers: "I think they were trying to understand that after having been there for, since October and having been presented with all of this information – what exactly was it they were being asked to consider?"

Rich was one of the attorneys defending the police officers. His clients did not include the officers who physically pinned Prude to the ground.

Rich says the jurors got a law school crash course on things like state of mind and criminally negligent homicide.

Rich brought up a murder case he has now where the grand jury testimony is 140 pages long.

Rich: "That is not even one-tenth the size of what we’re seeing in the Prude case. So just remarkable in its sheer scope."

The transcript shows the jurors wanted to know what happens if they thought the police were justified in what they did to Daniel Prude.

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Eugene Welch is a partner at Tully Rinckey law firm and a former assistant state attorney general.

Welch: "They were obviously debating whether or not the force used was excessive or whether the force used was justified. That’s what that means to me."


Brean: "Do you recall getting questions like that from jurors?"

Welch: "Oh absolutely. Absolutely. These are people that come from all walks of life. They have no idea what the law is and they count on the prosecutors for explaining the law to them."