ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s attorney general on Saturday moved to form a grand jury to investigate the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after being hooded and held down by Rochester police earlier this year.
“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement about Prude’s death, which has sparked nightly protests and calls for reform. She said the grand jury would be part of an “exhaustive investigation.”
Protesters gathered Saturday for a fourth night on the street where Prude, naked and handcuffed, was held face-down as snow fell. Policy body camera video shows officers covering Prude's head with a “spit hood,” designed to protect police from bodily fluids, then pressing his face into the pavement for two minutes.
Prude died March 30 after he was taken off life support.
The Monroe County medical examiner listed the manner of death as homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” Excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, were contributing factors, the report said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this week called on James to expedite the probe.
“Today, I applaud Attorney General Tish James for taking swift, decisive action in empaneling a grand jury,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Justice delayed is justice denied and the people of New York deserve the truth.”
Advocates say Prude’s death and the actions of the seven now-suspended Rochester police officers demonstrate how police are ill-equipped to deal with people suffering mental problems.
Stanley Martin, an organizer of Free the People Rochester, told reporters: “We do not need violent workers with guns to respond to mental health crises.”
Activists have marched nightly in the city of 210,000 on Lake Ontario since the police body camera footage of the encounter with Prude were released by his family Wednesday.
Friday night’s protest resulted in 11 arrests, police said. As they had the night before, officers doused activists at police headquarters with a chemical spray to drive them from barricades around the building.
As the night wore on, demonstrators were pushed further back, as police fired what appeared to be pepper balls. Fireworks were shot off and a bus stop was set on fire.
Prude’s family has said he appeared to be spiraling into crisis in the hours before his encounter with police.
“You’re trying to kill me!” the 41-year-old man is heard saying.
A police union has defended the officers involved in the encounter, saying they were strictly following department training and protocols, including using the mesh hood.