NEW YORK - Police officers shown on body camera video holding Daniel Prude down naked and handcuffed on a city street last winter until he stopped breathing will not face criminal charges, according to a grand jury decision announced Tuesday.
The 41-year-old Black man’s death last March sparked nightly protests in Rochester, New York, after the video was released nearly six months later, with demonstrators demanding a reckoning for police and city officials.
State Attorney General Letitia James, whose office took over the prosecution and impaneled a grand jury, said "the criminal justice system is badly in need of reform."
FILE - A makeshift memorial for Daniel Prude is seen prior to a march on Sept. 06, 2020 in Rochester, New York.
"While I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community, and communities across the country will rightfully be devastated and disappointed, we have to respect this decision," James said in a prepared release. "Serious reform is needed, not only at the Rochester Police Department, but to our criminal justice system as a whole."
Lawyers for the seven police officers suspended over Prude’s death have said the officers were strictly following their training that night, employing a restraining technique known as "segmenting." They claimed Prude’s use of PCP, which caused irrational behavior, was "the root cause" of his death.
The video made public on Sept. 4 shows Prude handcuffed and naked with a spit hood over his head as an officer pushes his face against the ground, while another officer presses a knee to his back. The officers held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. He was taken off life support a week later.
The county medical examiner listed the manner of death as homicide caused by "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint" and cited PCP as a contributing factor.
Prude’s family filed a federal lawsuit alleging the police department sought to cover up the true nature of his death.
Officers Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris and Mark Vaughn, along with Sgt. Michael Magri, were suspended after Prude’s death became public.
Democratic Mayor Lovely Warren fired police chief La’Ron Singletary shortly after the video’s release, while rejecting calls from demonstrators that she resign. Singletary has said in legal papers that Warren told him to lie to support her assertion that she hadn't learned of Prude's death until months later, and fired him for his refusal to do so. A city spokesperson said his version of events confirms Warren never saw the video until August.
Warren announced a run for a third term in January and pleaded not guilty in October to an unrelated indictment alleging she broke campaign finance rules and committed fraud. The city's public integrity office found no ethical lapses by the mayor in a narrow review of Prude's death.
The city halted its investigation into Prude’s death when James’ office began its own investigation in April. Under New York law, deaths of unarmed people in police custody are typically turned over to the attorney general’s office, rather than handled by local officials.