His Brother Called For Help After He Was Acting Strangely. Police Knelt On Him Until He Was Brain Dead.
Body camera video shows that Daniel Prude was complying with police when they knelt on his back and pushed his face to the ground for so long that he stopped breathing.
Joe Prude called the police for help. His brother was acting strangely and had suddenly bolted out the back door.
But when Rochester police found Daniel Prude soon after, naked and walking in the street, they handcuffed him, mocked him, put a mesh bag over his head, knelt on his back, and pushed his face into the ground until he stopped breathing, police records and body camera video shared with The Appeal show. Prude, who is Black, was unarmed.
“That was a lynching,” Joe Prude told The Appeal. “That was cold-blooded murder. … My brother was a loving individual. He was a likeable guy and a damn good brother. He made people laugh. He brought joy to people. He didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
A week after the March incident that left him brain dead, Daniel Prude was pronounced dead, a lawyer representing his family said. Months later, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin would kneel on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, sparking nationwide protests over racism and police violence.
The video of Prude’s death, obtained by local racial justice group Free the People Roc, was made public for the first time Wednesday. It eerily echoes Floyd’s death—the officers ignore Prude’s cries for help and continue to kneel on him as he appears to stop breathing. Local advocates are asking how what police called a “mental hygiene arrest” turned deadly.
“It’s really been traumatic for the family to think that they called for help and this was the result,” said Stanley Martin, an organizer with Free the People Roc. “If someone calls for mental health assistance, murdering people should not be the result.”
The medical examiner determined Prude’s death was a homicide, caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” a report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner shows. The medical examiner’s report attributes those complications to “excited delirium“—a controversial diagnosis often cited by law enforcement that isn’t recognized by major medical professional organizations—due to acute phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication.
The police department did not respond to an email and a voicemail seeking comment.
At a press conference held Wednesday morning, Free the People Roc and Daniel Prude’s family demanded the officers responsible for Prude’s death be fired.
Later that day, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary told reporters that the officers involved had not been suspended. “We don’t have a problem holding anyone accountable, but the investigation has to take its course,” he said.
The New York State attorney general’s office is investigating Prude’s death, according to an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo, and will decide whether or not to prosecute the officers involved.
On March 22, Prude, 41, got an Amtrak train from Chicago to Rochester to visit his brother. He was behaving unusually when he arrived and had threatened to harm himself, Joe Prude told The Appeal, so he contacted the police and had his brother taken to the hospital. But he was released within hours, Joe Prude said. Later, in the early morning hours of March 23, Daniel Prude asked his brother for a cigarette, then suddenly ran out the back door.
So Joe Prude called the police again. An officer arrived, and Joe Prude told him his brother was only a danger to himself, and told police not to kill his brother.
Body camera footage from the responding officers shared with The Appeal shows police found Prude at around 3 a.m., walking naked and bleeding down Jefferson Street. Rochester police officer Mark Vaughn pulls out his taser and tells Prude to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Prude immediately complies and is handcuffed without incident. After touching Prude, Vaughn returns to his squad car and uses hand sanitizer on his gloved hands.
“That was easy and fast,” Vaughn says as he walks back to Prude. At least five Rochester police officers stand over Prude, who is lying on his stomach on the cold, wet ground with his hands bound behind his back, rambling and saying the same phrases over and over. Snow is falling on him.
Prude appears to spit several times while on the ground, but not at the officers. One of the officers asks if anyone has a spit sock.
“Sir, you don’t got AIDS do you?” Vaughn asks Prude, who is writhing on the ground and repeating himself.
Another officer again asks for a spit sock, and though Prude is handcuffed on the ground and all of the officers are standing a few feet away from him, Vaughn pulls one out of his pocket and puts it over Prude’s head.
“He complied with all of their demands, and then they treated him like a piece of garbage with not even one speck of basic humanity,” Elliot Dolby-Shields, an attorney representing Prude’s family, told The Appeal. “No, ‘Hey are you alright? Hey, can we get you a blanket?’ … It’s freezing out and he’s naked. They don’t offer him anything.”
When Vaughn covers Prude’s face with the spit sock, Prude’s demeanor changes. Though he continues to ramble, his voice begins to quiver, and it sounds like he is on the verge of tears. He repeatedly asks officers to take the mask off his face, and tells officers to give him their mace, handcuffs, and guns.
After about a minute of this, while Prude is sitting upright but still handcuffed and on the ground, Vaughn and officer Troy Taladay approach Prude and push him onto the ground.
The two can be seen pinning him down, Taladay kneeling on Prude’s back and Vaughn pushing Prude’s face into the ground, while Prude repeatedly asks the officers to get off him. Prude’s speech becomes garbled and difficult to understand. He cries and makes sputtering sounds, but the officers don’t relent.
“Relax dude, you’re gonna end up getting tased,” another officer tells Prude as he begs Vaughn and Taladay to get off him.
Two emergency medical technicians arrive in an ambulance and approach the officers, who continue to mock Prude as he whimpers on the ground, wet snow covering his naked body. A police report says that officers believed Prude had stopped breathing by the time the EMTs arrived. In the body camera footage, one EMT can be heard asking if Prude feels hot.
“Do you want me to take his temperature?” Taladay says sarcastically, pointing to Prude’s buttocks. The EMT laughs. Prude has already stopped moving and talking at this point, but Taladay continues to kneel on the man.
“At first he’s talking, and then he’s whimpering, and then he goes silent,” Dolby-Shields said. “And they all laugh. They’re having a good time, and you can see at that moment that his hand stops twitching, and his chest stops going up and down, and he’s dying, and they’re just casually making jokes.”
One of the EMTs asks if he has a pulse. Another EMT says no. They start performing CPR, and Vaughn walks back to his car to grab more hand sanitizer. Officers uncuff Prude and get him onto a gurney. Medics managed to resuscitate Prude. A doctor later told Prude’s sister-in-law that he had been deprived of oxygen for a long time, and he was most likely brain dead, according to a police report.
As far as Joe Prude is concerned, his brother functionally died before making it to the hospital. “He died there. They just took him to the hospital and put a tube in him,” he said. With no sign of brain activity, the family decided to take Prude off life support the following week.
Prude’s family wants the officers involved to be fired and prosecuted. The family also intends to sue the city of Rochester over its officers’ actions.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren told reporters Wednesday that the city has been complying with an executive order Gov. Cuomo issued in the wake of Eric Garner’s death, requiring that deaths in police custody be investigated by the attorney general’s office.
Warren said she wants to do everything she can to hold people accountable for what happened, but “in this particular instance, it is not within our control.”
“I want everyone to understand and be very clear that at no point in time did we feel that this was something that we wanted not to disclose, it is always something that we want to be forthright, upfront about with our citizens,” she said.
Singletary, the police chief, said he ordered a criminal investigation and an internal investigation on the morning of March 23.
One officer tasked with investigating the incident wrote in a report that “the officers’ actions and conduct displayed when dealing with Prude appear to be appropriate and consistent with their training.”
Prude’s death on March 30 triggered the executive order, and the attorney general’s office took jurisdiction over the investigation in April. The internal investigation had not yet concluded at that time, Singletary said.
In a statement to the Appeal, Rochester City Councilmember Mary Lupien called for greater accountability from the department. “The officers, sergeant and EMT on scene should be immediately fired and brought up on charges for the wrongful death of Daniel Prude,” she said. “The investigators who deemed the actions taken to be appropriate should also be fired and the department policies and procedures thoroughly investigated.”