The city of Rochester, New York, is moving crisis intervention out of the police department amid outrage and protests over the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man with mental health issues who died after officers placed a spit hood over his head and restrained him.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced that the crisis invention department, and its budget, would be moving to the city’s department of youth and recreation services during a press conference Sunday. The change comes amid days of protests following the release of video of the March incident involving Prude.
“We had a human being in a need of help, in need of compassion. In that moment we had an opportunity to protect him, to keep him warm, to bring him to safety, to begin the process of healing him and lifting him up,” Warren said. “We have to own the fact that in the moment we did not do that.”
Police Chief La'Ron Singletary told reporters that he supported the need for reform in his police department, and that he was working with experts and clinicians in getting outpatient services for those who struggle with mental health and are in repeated police contact.
“I understand that there are certain calls that law enforcement shouldn’t handle alone and we are looking at ways to reimagine policing surrounding mental health, and have been for the last several months,” Singletary said.
It’s unclear how and if police would respond to calls regarding a mental health crisis in the future, or when the intervention team would officially leave the department.
Both the mayor and chief were asked at the press conference if they had contemplated resigning. Warren stated she was committed to staying and seeing through reforms in the city, Singletary would only say reports of his resignation were a "rumor" and that he had not been asked to step down. Warren reiterated her full support of Singletary.
Relatives of Prude, 41, released police videos on Wednesday and Thursday of the March 23 encounter and claimed that it shows officers used excessive force to restrain him. Daniel Prude died of "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” with the drug PCP listed as a contributing factor, according to an autopsy report from Monroe County Medical Examiner Nadia Granger.
Warren announced on Thursday that seven officers had been suspended over the incident and New York Attorney General Letitia James said Saturday she has empowered a state grand jury to investigate Prude’s death.
The man’s brother, Joe Prude, said he had mental health and drug problems and had been acting out on March 22. Joe Prude called 911 that day, and Prude was hospitalized for about three hours for a mental health check.
Prude had been visiting from Chicago and returned to his brother’s home, where he apparently began acting out again, according to his brother’s account. Joe Prude said he again called police, this time resulting in the incident shown in the video.
The videos show when officers found Prude naked in the middle of a street, shortly after 3 a.m. on March 23. Prude complied with orders to get on the ground face-down and put his hands behind his back, the video shows.
While handcuffed, Prude seemed to be speaking in a nonsensical manner, at one point asking officers for a gun, according to the videos. Police said the officers placed a spit hood on the 41-year-old because he said he had COVID-19.
At one point, it appeared Prude stopped breathing. Paramedics tried to revive him and he was put on life support at a hospital, but died seven days later.
Singletary previously stated that a state investigation must conclude before he can determine any disciplinary action for the officers involved.
Michael Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing city officers, said Friday that his members had been told for months they did nothing wrong in their response to Prude.
The videos sparked four consecutive nights of protests in Rochester as protesters rallied against the delay in information regarding the circumstances of Prude’s detainment and death. Demonstrators who refused to disperse Saturday night were met with tear gas and pepper balls deployed by police, who said protesters threw bottles, rocks, and fireworks at them, according to NBC affiliate WHEC.
Singletary and the mayor both stated they received intelligence that “outside agitators” have come to Rochester to participate in the protests. Singletary said there was “credible information” that those people wished to target “symbolic features,” such as the building of public safety.
“We have arrested people providing addresses from Alaska to Massachusetts and other parts of the country,” Singletary said.
Authorities have established a plan to bus in “elders” from around the city to stand between protesters and police for Sunday night’s demonstrations. The idea came from local Rev. Myra Brown of the Spiritus Christi Church.
While it is unclear when the protests will end, it is imperative to ensure the safety of young people who are marching, Brown said Sunday.
“We elders have volunteered to put our bodies on the line to make sure that that happens,” Brown said. “Because this community needs to unrestrictedly be able to walk these streets, be able to make the demands that they want to make, and to be able to go home without pepper spray or pepper balls in their eyes.”
Singletary did not say whether police have been told not to use pepper balls or similar irritants in the presence of elders, and instead told reporters that the department was still in the planning stages for the protest.