Police officers who placed a mesh hood on a black man last year and propped his head until he lost consciousness will not be charged with his death, officials said on Tuesday, after a large jury assembled to investigate the case declined to file an indictment.
The murder of man, Daniel Prude, in Rochester, New York, sparked intense protests in that city and others during a national assessment of racism and brutality in police. Mr Prude’s death is one of the many instances where black men have died in police custody in recent years.
Public records have shown that the Rochester Police Department sought to cover up the circumstances – captured by police body camera footage – of Mr Prude’s death. The case led to the dismissal of the town’s police chief.
“We looked for a different result than what the grand jury gave us today,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who called the panel to investigate Mr. Prude’s death. Ms James, speaking at a press conference in Rochester, expressed her clear disappointment with the result, but added: “We have to respect the decision.”
Mr Prude, 41, was visiting his brother in Rochester in March when he had an apparent psychotic episode. He ran down the street naked and was handcuffed by police officers. Mr Prude, who had told at least one passer-by he had the coronavirus, began to spit, and police responded by pulling a mesh hood over his head.
When he tried to stand up, officers forced Mr. Prude face down on the ground, one of them pushing his head onto the sidewalk, camera footage of the police body showed. The police held Mr. Prude for two minutes and he had to be resuscitated. He died in hospital a week later on March 30. His death was subsequently declared a homicide.
But the circumstances of Mr Prude’s death did not become public until September, and only after his family’s lawyers pushed for the release of the body camera images.
Ms James’ office announced on Tuesday that there would be no charges for the seven officers involved: Constables Josiah Harris, Francisco Santiago, Paul Ricotta, Andrew Specksgoor, Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay and Sgt. Michael Magri.
The murder sparked protests in Rochester, a small town just south of Lake Ontario. At times, police in riot gear fired chemical irritants at protesters, most of whom remained peaceful.
Concrete barriers formed a reinforced perimeter around the Rochester Public Safety building on Tuesday as rumors spread that an announcement about the case was imminent.
In Rochester, the murder of Mr. Prude upset the political order.
Records published in an internal review of the episode appeared to show that officials in Rochester had tried for months to suppress video footage of the meeting and distorted the cause of his death.
“We certainly don’t want people to misinterpret the actions of the officers and associate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement at the national level,” wrote a deputy police chief of Rochester in a June 4 email to his boss, advising him not to hand the footage over to the Prude family lawyer. “It would just be a false narrative and could create animosity and potentially backfire in this community.”
The police chief replied a few minutes later: “I totally agree.”
Dan Higgins contributed reporting from Rochester.