NY AG offers rare glimpse into grand jury proceedings that cleared police in Daniel Prude’s death

Photo provided by Rochester Police and Roth and Roth LLP, distributed by The Associated Press
In this image taken from police body camera video provided by Roth and Roth LLP, a Rochester police officer puts a hood over the head of Daniel Prude, on March 23, 2020, in Rochester, N.Y.

New York Attorney General Letitia James released the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings in her office’s investigation into the March 2020 death of Daniel Prude, marking the first time in New York state history that jury transcripts have been made public in a case of police-involved death.

The grand jury convened on nine separate occasions between Oct. 2020 and Feb. 2021 for more than 45 hours in total. Some redactions have been made in the transcripts to protect the identities of the jury members.

The grand jury declined to indict the officers on charges of criminally negligent homicide.

“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. “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.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James

“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.” 

Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, was killed in March of 2020 by Rochester police officers after being handcuffed, having a hood placed over his head to prevent spitting, and being pressed into the ground. Prude was unarmed and looked to be having a psychotic episode. He died of complications from asphyxia.

Earlier this session, legislation was introduced in response to the death of Prude 

The bills look to ban the use of spit hoods, create statewide mental health response units and require police to reside in the cities where they work. The legislation also will ban the use of chemical irritants on minors, which comes after Rochester police handcuffed and pepper sprayed a nine-year-old girl whose mother called police out of fear she was experiencing a mental health crisis.

The bill numbers are S04002/A.5449A; S04814/A04697; and S.02960/A.04565.

In an earlier press conference, James called for rethinking the use of spit hoods and to look for solutions that minimize or eliminate police presence to mental health emergency calls, such as Prude’s, and for all police officers to undergo de-escalation and unconscious bias training.

Included in the legislative package is Daniel’s Law, which looks to amend public health in New York state by establishing mental health response units that are trained to de-escalate emergency situations involving illness and substance abuse. The bill was introduced in March by state Sen. Samra Brouk, advocacy organization Free The People ROC and The Black Healer’s Network, a group whose mission is to provide competent care for Black patients.

“Right now, my community is hurting, and we have to put them first. This package of legislation is an important step in responding to both the acute injury and the lasting, generational trauma at the hands of law enforcement that we have experienced here in Rochester,” Brouk said. “The recommendations made by Attorney General Letitia James during her announcement of the grand jury findings yesterday are echoed in the reform work that my fellow Rochester-area legislators and I have been doing, and they are an important step in rebuilding our community’s trust and beginning the process of healing from these traumatic experiences.” 

The grand jury’s decision and the introduction of these bills comes after a summer of protests and unrest calling for justice and the defunding of police following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and other victims at the hands of police.

“We will not stop fighting for justice in Daniel Prude’s memory to protect others from being killed by police because they experience a mental health crisis,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Mental health crises require mental health expertise, not violence at the hands of the police. It’s time for a complete transformation of community safety, beginning with removing the RPD from mental health crisis response and putting trained mental health professionals in charge.”