The grand jury’s deliberations could lead to criminal charges in one of the latest tragedies to spark outrage over police treatment of Black Americans, as protesters, politicians and anguished families demand accountability for individual officers as well as systemic reform.
“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a news release, adding that her office would “immediately move to impanel a grand jury as part of our exhaustive investigation into this matter.” New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said in a statement Saturday that “justice delayed is justice denied and the people of New York deserve the truth.”
Officials said Prude was experiencing a mental breakdown during his arrest, a week before his death, and experts have said Rochester police failed to use long-standing tactics designed to help those in crisis. “You’re trying to kill me!” Prude says on video after police cover his head with a controversial “spit hood,” meant to protect officers from bodily fluids.
“Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police, our mental health system, our society and me,” Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren (D) said earlier this week, adding that the police chief had told her earlier that Prude overdosed on drugs while in custody. An autopsy report said Prude had PCP in his system.
Demonstrators have been calling for the resignation of the mayor and police chief, and Prude’s family has accused authorities of covering up wrongdoing by law enforcement, which police denied.
Video shows one officer placing his hands on Prude, who was naked and handcuffed, as he was lying facedown. Another officer can be seen putting his knee on Prude’s back.
The family says it took months to learn more about Prude’s death. Warren has said she got the full story in August from the city’s corporation counsel after an open-records request from a Prude family attorney.
“Experiencing and ultimately dying from a drug overdose while in police custody, as I was told by the chief, is entirely different than what I ultimately witnessed on the video,” Warren said in a statement. “I have addressed with Police Chief LaRon Singletary how deeply disappointed I am in him personally and professionally for failing to fully and accurately inform me about what occurred to Mr. Prude.”
James’s announcement came after a third night of demonstrations in Rochester, where police said more than 2,000 people showed up downtown on Friday evening. Violence broke out as the night wore on.
Police fired pepper balls and tear gas, and authorities said officers were hospitalized with cuts, serious swelling, burns and bruises from “projectiles and incendiary devices.” A bus stop went up in flames, and patrons hurriedly left restaurants where people threw tables and broke glass amid protest chants.
The clashes mirrored other escalating situations around the country. Recent fatal shootings and clashes between right-wing and left-wing demonstrators in Portland, Ore., and Kenosha, Wis., have left residents on edge and leaders pleading for peace in communities already roiled by outrage over police killings and use of force.
In Rochester, a person in a group of protesters was hit by a car early Saturday morning, although it is unclear if they suffered injuries.
A video from early Saturday morning captured a shouting crowd surrounding one car that initially slowed before driving on, as a man jumped briefly on top of the vehicle. The video also showed a second driver spraying a substance at protesters and colliding with one person as the car passed.
A police spokeswoman said that no one has reported being hit by cars and that no arrests have been made related to the collision captured on video at East Avenue and Alexander Street.
The drivers, however, called police, and one filed a criminal mischief complaint, police said.
The police response to protests over Prude’s death has drawn new criticism about officers’ tactics, with some decrying the use of tear gas and force.
Other cities have been seeing nightly confrontations between demonstrators and law enforcement this summer. This weekend marked 100 consecutive days of protests in Portland amid a national reckoning on race and policing sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
On Friday night, outside a Portland police union building in the north side of the city, police deployed tear gas and detained several protesters in what they described as targeted arrests.
A woman with a bloody face, detained by police, was taken away in an ambulance.
Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.