WHEC and AP
Updated: April 16, 2021 07:10 PM
Created: April 16, 2021 02:15 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC/AP) — Newly released transcripts show that a grand jury investigating the death of Daniel Prude voted 15-5 to clear the three officers involved in his restraint of a criminally negligent homicide charge sought by prosecutors.
That was the only charge prosecutors from the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James asked the grand jury to consider after nine days of testimony from witnesses, including Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, other police officers, and experts, between October 2020 and February 2021.
“This nation has a long and painful history of injustice, and every day, we are working to create a fairer and more equal system,” James said in a statement Friday. “Our efforts to balance the scales of justice and ensure accountability can only go so far in the absence of transparency. We took the unprecedented action of seeking to release the grand jury transcripts because the public deserves to know what happened in these proceedings. As I have throughout my career, I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to shine a light in the corners of our system that have been hidden for too long.”
As ordered by the court, the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings have minimal redactions to protect the identities of the jurors and witnesses who testified.
One juror praised the prosecution team for helping make sense of the case, telling them: “You guys did amazing work. If it wasn’t for everything that you presented to us, I don’t think anybody would have come up with a decision. You worked very hard and I’m sure nobody took it lightly. It was a very serious case. It’s horrible what happened to him.”
Click the following links for transcripts:
The transcripts show the jurors asked a lot of questions ranging from Daniel Prude's history to the charges they were considering.
Joe Prude called 911 twice for help with his brother last March. On March 23, body camera video shows Daniel ended up naked, handcuffed and pinned by police on Jefferson Avenue.
After Daniel stopped breathing and was rushed to Strong Memorial Hospital, police returned to Joe Prude's home where he was told Daniel stopped breathing.
Joe Prude testified "Right then and there, I knew they killed my brother."
The video also shows one officer in a push-up stance with his hands on Prude's head and neck. Less than 10 minutes after he was handcuffed, Prude stopped breathing. He had no pulse and was getting CPR when he was put in an ambulance. Prude died a week later after he was taken off life support.
One of the state's experts told the jurors he didn't think the police were responsible for Daniel's death. He testified it was his opinion that "none of the officers, their impact, individually or collectively, would have caused or contributed to that cardiac arrest."
He went on to say it would have been more dangerous for Daniel if the police let him get up and run around.
The Monroe County medical examiner listed the manner of death as homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” Excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, were contributing factors, the report said.
A doctor from the University of San Diego told the grand jury that drug use and mental illness contribute to the medical condition known as excited delirium, which can make people vulnerable to cardiac arrest. The unidentified doctor said he didn't think the spit hood contributed to Prude's cardiac arrest and death.
In December, the jury heard from the officer who pinned Daniel's head to the ground. He told the jurors at one point Daniel was "actually trying to bite my fingers. He began spitting." The officer said moments later, "I have little to no downward pressure on Mr. Prude's head at all." Then, he told the jury for the first time "no resistive tension at all."
He said police used the hood because Prude was spitting and they were wary of being sickened in the early days of the pandemic.
"I don’t know if you guys remember exactly about the coronavirus, how we felt, but it was almost hysteria in the country,” the unidentified officer said.
At one point, prosecutor Michael Smith drew grand jurors’ attention to a 2015 training bulletin that explained to officers that “positional asphyxia may occur when the position of the person’s body interferes with respiration, resulting in serious injury or death” and that the risk of such asphyxia “can increase when the person is restrained in a prone position.”
The officer said the reason why they didn't give Daniel a blanket was that officers are not issued blankets and Daniel did not ask for one, he said that Daniel didn't say he was cold at any point, didn't shiver or shake or otherwise appear cold.
He also said that they didn't put Daniel in a patrol car because, in his experience, people experiencing drug episodes sometimes attempt to injure themselves when officers put them in the car.
News10NBC reached out to the Rochester Police Accountability Board for comment.
While he hadn't read through it all yet, the executive director said this: "This is an important window into a criminal justice system that often fails to hold police officers accused of wrongdoing accountable. People should read through the transcripts carefully and decide for themselves whether or not justice was done."
Prude's death didn't become public knowledge until early September.
In September, Mayor Lovely Warren suspended the seven officers for their involvement in Prude's death — Sgt. Michael Magri and officers Josiah Harris, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Troy Taladay, and Mark Vaughn. The officers remain suspended with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation, Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said.
On Feb. 23, Attorney General James came to Rochester and said the police would not be charged.
"We presented the strongest case possible but today the grand jury decided not to indict any police officer on charges related to Daniel Prude's death," James said.
In March of this year, an attorney hired to independently investigate the City of Rochester's handling of the Prude case concluded the city "suppressed" information from getting to the public and made "untrue statements."
Prude's five children filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Rochester and the seven officers, alleging civil rights violations. According to court documents, the family claims it made a "fatal mistake" of seeking help from the Rochester Police Department in Prude's mental health crisis.
"Instead of providing him with care and assistance, officers of the Rochester Police Department cruelly abused him, mocked him, and killed him," the lawsuit says.
The family is seeking damages for Prude's "emotional pain and suffering" among other damages. Soon after the grand jury chose not to indict the officers, Prude's brother, Joe Prude, and his sister filed a civil lawsuit of their own.
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