On Wednesday, bodycam footage from the Rochester, New York, Police Department was made public and it shows a disturbing scene: officers arrived to assist a Black man having what his family says was a psychotic episode, but instead of helping him, officers mocked him, dehumanised him, and ultimately pinned him to the ground until he suffocated to death. Daniel Prude, 41, died in the hospital seven days after the incident, which took place in March. The coroner ruled Prude's death a homicide and attributed it to “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
The video, released by Prude’s family, shows him sitting naked in the street when officers arrived. When police asked him to lie on his stomach to be handcuffed, he initially complied, but was loudly shouting. At one point, an officer mocked him by asking if he had HIV.
Prude eventually sat up, which is when the officers put a “spit sock” over his face. Officers told investigators they did this because they were worried about the coronavirus, and they said Prude had been spitting at them. Prude yelled throughout the video, and eventually, three officers pushed him to the ground while one pinned his head there. “You’re trying to kill me!” Prude shouted, before appearing to cry. The officer remained on his head for the next three minutes, until paramedics arrive.
Once paramedics were on the scene, officers tried to rouse Prude, who had gone silent, despite being vocal throughout the interaction. "You good, man?" one officer asked. Prude did not respond.
At that point, the officer finally let go of his head. The officers on the scene begin to notice the state Prude was in: one observed that he was vomiting "just straight water” and one pointed out that his chest is no longer rising and falling. Eventually, the spit sock was removed from his head, CPR was performed, and he was placed on a gurney to be taken to the hospital.
According to a press conference on Wednesday, Prude was brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. The medical examiner ruled his cause of death to be asphyxia from the way he was being restrained, along with "excited delirium" and PCP intoxication.
Despite what was clearly the death of another Black man at the hands of police officers, Prude's family says he still hasn't seen justice. According to the ACLU of New York, the officers who killed Prude were not disciplined and remain on active duty. The case is currently being investigated by the New York Attorney General's Office.
"I placed the phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched," Prude’s brother Joe said at the press conference, according to WROC. Prude's family said he had just been released from the hospital, where he had been admitted for having suicidal ideation.
"When I say get lynched, that was full-fledged, murder, cold-blooded — nothing other than cold-blooded murder," Joe continued. "The man is defenceless, naked on the ground, cuffed up already. I mean come on, how many brothers got to die for society to understand that this needs to stop? You killed a defenceless Black man, a father's son, a brother's brother, a nephew's uncle.”
Following the release of the footage, protests erupted in Rochester. Several community leaders, including Stanley Martin and Ashley Gantt of Free the People Roc, were arrested. Police told Martin she was being arrested “for being an idiot” and threatened her with a taser, according to Rochester City Paper. At a protest at the site of Prude’s killing later in the day, activists asked why they were arrested before the police who killed Prude were.
Prude is the latest unarmed Black man to be killed on camera by police officers in recent months. Following the deaths of George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and Dijon Kizzee, footage of his killing has ignited advocates from both Black Lives Matter and mental health groups to take a stand.
People with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police, according to a 2015 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center. Reporting from The Intercept last year identified a pattern of Black people calling 911 to seek help for a family member in the throes of a mental health crisis, only for the police to kill the person when they arrive. Young Black men with mental illness are most vulnerable of all when it comes to being killed by police. Jacob Prude was another example of this pattern, a death that should never have happened.
Refinery29 reached out to the Rochester Police Department for comment. We will update this story as we know more.