A demonstrator stands in front of a line of police officers lined up a block from the Public Safety Building in Rochester, N.Y., Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, after a rally and march protesting the death.
( AP Photo/Adrian Kraus
Arun Venugopal: I'm Arun Venugopal and you're listening to The Takeaway. Last Thursday, seven police officers in Rochester, New York were suspended over the killing of Daniel Prude. Prude, a Black man, died of asphyxiation in March after officers put a hood over his head and pushed him down on the ground during what's being described as a psychotic episode.
Lovely Warren: Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police department, our mental health care system, our society, and he was failed by me.
Arun: That was Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren speaking at a press conference last week, after the release of police body camera footage documented the incident. Prude's death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner's office. The video quickly spread across social media and has sparked calls for accountability, with widespread protests in the city of Rochester over the last few days. For more on this, let's turn to James Brown, a reporter for WXXI News in Rochester. James, thanks for joining us.
James Warren: Thanks, Arun.
Arun: For those who haven't been following this case, tell us a little about Daniel Prude and what happened to him back in March.
James: Daniel Prude was new to Rochester. He was cobbling his life together as we go in terms of the descriptions of him and his life. He moved back to Rochester to be with his family. That was just a few weeks prior to the incident. From what we do know is that there were a series of troubling events to his family. Essentially, they were very concerned about his mental state. In the end, he ended up running out of the house nude in late March. If you know anything about Western New York, late March is pretty cold. We're talking probably 30-degree weather. He was gone for hours and hours and hours. That led to the call to 911 to look for him.
He went from Child Street, which is a few miles away from Jefferson Avenue where the incident happened. This man was naked, running through the streets of Rochester, had to be for quite a while in order to get from Child Street to Jefferson. That's where he encountered police. He claimed to have COVID. He was clearly, from descriptions and from the video itself, made various claims. He asked for one of the officer's weapons. He asked for $70, I believe. He was out of it. That's where the incident in question happened.
Arun: This happened five months ago. Why are people calling for justice now?
James: If you take the city police and Mayor Lovely Warren at their word, Prude was asphyxiated, he goes to the hospital, and when he dies, Mayor Lovely Warren was contacted by Chief La'Ron Singletary. Mayor Lovely Warren says that she was told that he ODed. There was a medical examiner report, which you mentioned earlier, where a homicide was declared. Mayor Warren says she was not told that it became a homicide at all.
According to now the state law, the State Attorney General's Office has to get involved at that point. That's where this gets muddy. There's a couple of ongoing investigations both internally and externally. Our officials here in Rochester decided that they were not going to share this information with us.
Arun: The killing of Daniel Prude by police officers in Rochester has led to these widespread protests, and now the State Attorney General Letitia James has gotten involved. What is she calling for?
James: She is calling for an impaneling of a grand jury immediately. She has also said that the City of Rochester could've made this information public sooner. We've been hearing a lot from them for the last few days.
Arun: The mayor of Rochester herself has also, I guess, apologized for not being more transparent about this. She said she found out in early August about the death, the killing of Daniel Prude. How has she accounted for her, I guess, lack of transparency to the public?
James: She called it a failure of her humanity. She said that she relied on the city law department's interpretation of the Attorney General's instructions. She claims that she followed their lead on this one. It was quite striking to hear her say personally that her choices and order failed Daniel Prude and his family.
Arun: There's also been an open rift between the mayor and the Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary, correct?
James: Yes. It was very interesting. Over the weekend, late last week, the mayor said, essentially, that La'Ron and Rochester police were keeping information from her, that they did not inform her of the ME's report, and essentially, they did not give her all of the facts in the case. Therefore, she felt that she could not dutifully do her job in this case. Then over the weekend, they appeared together. This was on Sunday. She did an about-face. She said that she was fully confident that La'Ron followed everything by the book and that she was totally confident in him as police chief.
Arun: That's interesting. Then you have the president of the police department union, Mike Mazzeo. He spoke at a press conference last week about his understanding of the case. What was notable about that?
James: A number of things. He claims that A, one of the officers who was suspended was not on the scene at all. He also claimed that the officers on the scene followed by the book instructions from a state-mandated training that they took early this year, which muddies the case even further.
Arun: Certainly, this brings up a lot of issues that have been perennial topics of conversation about how police are able or not able to handle mental health crises. How has the City of Rochester responded to the Prude family's intent to file a lawsuit?
James: A number of organizations that were already mobilized-- I think that's really important to note here that since George Floyd, there's been protest groups that have sprouted up throughout Rochester. Most of these folks are a part of the Black Lives Matter movement and they've been working, ongoing, holding weekly if not biweekly protests throughout Rochester. These folks were already mobilized. Then you add Daniel Prude's death to this situation. The focus has been A, demands that the mayor resign; B, demands that La'Ron Singletary resign; a new law that demands that all mental health calls be responded to by anyone but police. There's been lots of talk of rethinking how these calls are handled.
Arun: James Brown is a reporter for WXXI News in Rochester. James, thanks for joining us.
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