US city to pay Daniel Prude family $12m after arrest death

Prude, an unarmed Black man, died after Rochester police put a hood over his head and held him down in March 2020.

An image from police body camera video shows Rochester police officer putting a hood over the head of Daniel Prude in Rochester, NY [Rochester Police via Roth and Roth LLP via AP]

Officials in the western New York city of Rochester have agreed to pay $12m to the children of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after police put a hood over his head and held him down for several minutes in March 2020, according to local media.

The settlement, which will go to Prude’s five children, was approved in a court document filed on Thursday. Prude’s death was among a series of high-profile deaths of Black people involving police in the US that sparked protests in recent years.

Demonstrators took to Rochester’s streets en masse after a grand jury in February of 2021 voted not to indict the officers involved.

Stephen Schwarz, a lawyer who represented the Prude family, called the settlement a “just” outcome, according to Rochester’s City Newspaper.

“This is a recognition by the administration that has taken over the city that this tragedy was avoidable, and that this was something that shouldn’t have happened and something that should never happen again,” Schwarz said.

In a statement, Rochester Mayor Malik Evans said that the agreement was “the best decision” for the city.

daniel prude
Joe Prude, right, uncle of Daniel Prude, and Daniel’s nephew Armin, stand with a picture of Daniel Prude in Rochester, NY [Ted Shaffrey/The Associated Press]

“It would have cost taxpayers even more to litigate, and would have placed a painful toll on our community,” said Evans, who was not in office when Prude died in March 2020.

Police confronted Prude, 41, after his brother called to say the man needed help during an apparent mental health episode.

Prude had been taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation earlier that night but was released after a few hours.

Police video showed that Prude had complied with police demands to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back after an initial attempt to flee.

He became agitated as he sat, handcuffed, on the pavement.

Police then put a hood on his head – a so-called “spit sock” to stop him from spitting. They held him down for about two minutes until his breathing stopped.

He died several days later after being taken off life support, with the county medical examiner later determining the death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint”, while citing the drug PCP as a contributing factor.

The officers involved have maintained they followed training during the incident.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, responding to the 2021 grand jury decision declining to charge the officers, had said that Prude “was in the throes of a mental health crisis and what he needed was compassion, care and help from trained professionals”.

“Tragically, he received none of those things,” she said.

An image taken from police body camera video shows Rochester police officers holding down Daniel Prude [File: Rochester Police via Roth and Roth LLP via AP]

The lawyers representing Prude’s family have maintained that his constitutional rights were violated by police actions. They have also accused the authorities of trying to withhold details of the incident.

Emails released months after Prude’s death showed that in June 2020, Rochester police commanders urged city officials to hold off on publicly releasing the video of the incident because they feared violent blowback if it came out during nationwide protests that were then unfolding over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The former mayor of Rochester, Lovely Warren, later fired the city’s police chief over the handling of the incident, charging Prude’s death “was not taken as seriously as it should have been”.

Charges against individual police officers for high-profile killings and deaths in custody of Black people remain rare in the US, with convictions even more scarce.

Still, Derek Chauvin, the police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was later convicted of two counts of murder and sentenced to more than two decades in prison. The three other officers at the scene of that incident were later charged with violating Floyd’s civil rights.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies