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Daniel Prude's Death Ruled A Homicide. He Was Restrained By Police

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back in March, a man in Rochester, N.Y., named Joe prude called 911. He wanted help with his brother, Daniel Prude. Daniel had a history of mental illness and was behaving erratically. Police arrived and immediately handcuffed him. They put a hood over his head and pinned his head and body to the ground. He was taken away in an ambulance. A week later, Daniel Prude died.

His family's been trying to figure out what happened ever since. Yesterday, the family's lawyer received police footage of the events and shared it with local media. Protests soon followed. Before we get more details on this story, a note to listeners - the subject matter of what comes next is going to be disturbing. NPR's Liz Baker is covering this, who joins us from Rochester. Liz, good morning. What do we see in this footage?

LIZ BAKER, BYLINE: Yeah. And like you said, it's really graphic. Prude, a Black man, is seen walking in the street. It's snowing. He's wearing no clothes. He's yelling at police officers. He spits at them. The police cover his head with a white bag. And Prude yells at the officers to give him their guns. Then when Prude moves to stand up, the officers hold him down on his stomach and pin his head and his legs. And this is where the video gets especially hard to watch because you can hear Prude making these awful noises as he struggles to breathe. And then he goes limp. At this point, the officers roll him onto his back. Prude seems unresponsive. And the EMTs arrive and immediately start chest compressions. And Prude's hands are still cuffed behind his back when they start those.

MARTIN: So his family's been trying to figure out what happened to him for five months. Why are we just hearing about this now?

BAKER: Well, the lawyers for the family made a public records request for the footage. And so yesterday after seeing that video, Prude's family held a press conference on the steps of Rochester City Hall. Here's the victim's brother, Joe Prude. He's the one who called police on his brother that night because he was concerned about his agitated mental state. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE PRUDE: I placed a phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother the get lynched.

BAKER: Joe Prude also questioned why no charges have been filed against the officers. The medical examiner's report ruled the death a homicide due to complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint. And that's part of why the family is so angry. The victim's brother and a group of activists tried to demand answers during the mayor's scheduled press conference yesterday. But they were barred from entering.

MARTIN: So what are city officials saying about this?

BAKER: Well, in that press conference, both the chief of police and the mayor of Rochester were asked why the city has been silent for months. Here's Chief of Police La'Ron Singletary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LA'RON SINGLETARY: The rhetoric that this is a cover-up - it's not. You know, we don't have a problem with holding anyone accountable. But the investigation has to take its course.

BAKER: And that investigation he's referring to is by the state attorney general's office. And both the chief and the mayor say this precludes the city from conducting their own investigations. And the officers involved have not been suspended while that investigation continues.

MARTIN: And then, as we've noted, after the video came out, protesters went on the streets. They were met with tear gas from police. I mean, are they calling for police reform, accountability, the same kind of protests that we've seen across the country, Liz?

BAKER: Yeah. Definitely. I mean, this case comes on the back of a summer where we've seen so many Black men being killed in police custody. The death of George Floyd sparked protests in Rochester just like it did in so many other cities. And downtown Rochester's Black community don't have a great relationship with police anyway. But accountability isn't the only issue. Prude's death also renewed demands for an alternative to having police respond to calls for people experiencing mental illness.

MARTIN: So this - there were so many unanswered questions for so long. Now I imagine things are going to move rather quickly. What do we expect to happen in the days ahead?

BAKER: Well, the family of Prude is suing the police department. And protesters are going to keep protesting.

MARTIN: NPR's Liz Baker in Rochester, N.Y. Thanks, Liz.

BAKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.