A grand jury has chosen not to criminally charge Rochester police officers whose restraint of Daniel Prude may have caused his death, state Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday, February 23, 2021.
James, who is tasked with investigating the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police, made the announcement Tuesday at Aenon Baptist Church in Rochester.
Last year, after the Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Prude’s death a homicide, the District Attorney’s Office forwarded the case to the Attorney General for possible prosecution.
Prude lost oxygen to his brain while being pinned to the ground by police as they waited for medical transport.
Lawyers for the police have contended that the restraint used on Prude, with one officer holding his head to the ground and another pinning his lower body, followed the techniques they were taught. It’s possible that the officers testified before the grand jury.
Critics of the restraint and local activists say the police did not need to forcefully hold Prude down; he was naked and handcuffed behind his back.
Prude’s death set off nights of protest in Rochester, with activists contending that police should not have been the primary responders to what was a mental health episode.
On March 23, police received a call of a man acting erratic in southwest Rochester and breaking windows. Police found Prude, who had been taken to Strong Memorial Hospital hours earlier but not admitted, wandering the streets naked.
The encounter with police led to his restraint, and he stopped breathing and lost oxygen to his brain. He was revived but died a week later.
Stanley Martin, one of the Free the People ROC activists who led protests last year, said Monday before James’ announcement that “I was initially hopeful about a grand jury proceeding and that possibly leading to some kind of justice for the Prude family.”
“I’m more so gearing up for what looks like healing for the (Prude) family if they are indeed let down,” she said. She said the community needs to continue to push for better mental health services and lesser police presence, especially with mental health episodes like Prude’s.
Attorney General James announced in September, after news of Prude’s death became public, that she would empanel a grand jury. That process presented logistical complications because of COVID-19. The downtown Hall of Justice has been reconfigured for grand juries to have necessary space for social distancing, and the regional administrative judge, state Supreme Court Justice Craig Doran, had to find space for an additional grand jury.
Later in the fall of last year, the grand jury convened, typically meeting just once a week. The term of the grand jury expired in January, but an extension was granted.