We Say 'Defund The Police' Because We Don't Want You Shoving A Guy's Face In The Ground Till He Dies
This week, a March autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner's Office was released, which ruled the March 23 death of Daniel Prude at the hands of police officers in Rochester, New York, a homicide, saying he died from "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint." The case is now being investigated by the New York attorney general's office.
Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who had come to Rochester from Chicago to visit his brother, was experiencing a mental health crisis, and was running through the street naked. His family called authorities for help, but what happened instead is that the cops ended up handcuffing him, putting a bag over his head —a "spit bag" intended to protect the officers from COVID-19 — and then kneeling on his back. There is video and it is horrific.
Prude died seven days later as a result of what happened to him that night.
Via Rochester First:
"On March 23, 2020 the Rochester Police Department executed a Black man named Daniel Prude," said local activist Stanley Martin. "Mr. Prude was naked, defenseless, unarmed, and experiencing a mental health crisis."
"I placed the phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched," said Joe Prude, the brother of Daniel Prude. "When I say get lynched, that was full fledged, murder, cold blooded — nothing other than cold blooded murder. The man is defenseless, naked on the ground, cuffed up already. I mean come on, how many brothers got to die for society to understand that this needs to stop? You killed a defenseless black man, a father's son, a brother's brother, a nephews uncle."
"Rochester Police Department was called and that response led to his murder," said activist Ashley Gantt, who is also an organizer for NYCLU. "The police have shown us time and time again that they cannot address mental health crises. Today we stand firmly seeking justice for Daniel and his family, and all the victims who have been murdered and terrorized by the Rochester Police Department."
Mayor Lovely Warren and Police Chief La'Ron Singletary said that the reason we are just finding out about all of this right now, instead of back in March when it happened, is not because anyone was trying to cover it up, but rather because of a July 2015 executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, requiring that all civilian deaths at the hands of police officers be handled by the attorney general's office.
Attorney General Letitia James says this does not mean the city or the Rochester Police Department were not allowed to conduct internal investigations of their own, or even mention it.
"As my office continues our investigation into the death of Daniel Prude, it is important for the Rochester community to know that we are working diligently to ensure a swift but thorough investigation. At this time, we have not asked the city of Rochester nor the Rochester Police Department (RPD) to refrain from launching an internal investigation. In fact, we encourage both Rochester and the RPD to proceed with an internal review simultaneous to our investigation. The Prude family and the greater Rochester community deserve answers, and we will continue to work around the clock to provide them."
At a press conference Thursday night, Mayor Lovely Warren announced that the seven officers involved were suspended, "against the advice of counsel." Those officers are Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.
"I understand that the union may sue me for taking these officers off our streets. They should feel free to do so," Warren said.
Warren also said that she was told previously by Chief Singletary that Prude had died of an overdose (a small amount of PCP was found in his system).
At the press conference, the mayor said she was informed of the incident on March 23. She said she was told Prude suffered an apparent overdose, was taken to a hospital, that he might die, and the incident could be investigated because he was in police custody.
Mayor Warren said she was notified the following week, March 30, when Prude passed away, and the incident was being investigated. The Medical Examiner's autopsy report was filed the following day. The mayor said she was then not informed of anything regarding Mr. Prude, the Attorney General investigation, or anything from the district attorney's office until August 4 when corporation counsel told her she needed to see the body cam video.
Mayor Warren said the chief has since been reprimanded for his actions. At this time it is not known what punishment, if any, the chief faces.
That still leaves a month, however, where this was not being mentioned by anybody — so while Mayor Warren is certainly saying all of the right things, civil rights groups are not sure she has been doing all of the right things, and have called for her resignation.
NOW: Rochester civil rights organizations calling for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren’s removal from office. They say… https://t.co/zJ7PJzpqcq— Kris Betts (@Kris Betts)1599142536.0
People used to joke that if you had a nervous breakdown, the "men in the white coats" would come and haul you away with butterfly nets. That's obviously a cartoonish scenario, but it would certainly be a better option than the police suffocating people with "spit bags."
Daniel Prude's family should have had options other than calling the police, who are simply not trained or equipped to handle situations like this. They didn't. Monroe County does have an emergency mobile psychiatric crisis team, but that is only for mental health crises where the person is not a danger to themselves or others and does not need emergency psychiatric care — and mental health care is a lot more expensive than calling the cops. There is a psychiatric emergency center in the city, but no real explanation for how to get someone to it if you cannot get them into a car, other than calling the cops for help. There are free ambulances in the suburbs, but not in the city.
I grew up in Rochester, I am here right now, I could not tell you who Daniel Prude's family could have called to safely help him.
This horrible tragedy is a clear cut case for why we need to redirect funds for law enforcement to emergency mental health services. People shouldn't have to worry that if they call the cops for help that the cops are going to end up murdering the person they are supposed to be helping.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse