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Black man dies after police cover his head with hood and press his face into the ground while he is naked and handcuffed

Man suffocated in Rochester police custody
Newly-released body camera video shows naked man suffocating in police custody in Rochester, NY 04:11

Warning: The images included in this article are graphic and disturbing.

A Black man died in March after police in Rochester, New York, put a hood over his head and pressed his face into the ground for more than three minutes while he was naked and handcuffed, according to body camera footage and documents released by the victim's family on Wednesday. Daniel Prude, 41, died seven days after the incident, according to the medical examiner's report, which attributed his death in part to asphyxiation.

Family members said Wednesday that they called police early in the morning on March 23 to help Prude, who was suffering what their attorney described as "an acute, manic, psychotic episode." At about 3:15 a.m., body camera footage shows officers approaching Prude, who was kneeling naked in the street. Prude complied when officers asked him to lay on his stomach, and police handcuffed him as he lay on the ground.

Prude then repeatedly yelled at officers to give him their guns, and at one point rolled onto his back. One officer can be heard mocking Prude, asking, "You don't got AIDS, do you? You got HIV?" 

Prude is seen with his head covered by police.  Elliot Shields

Minutes later, Prude sat up. The officers then can be seen putting a "spit sock"— a barrier intended to protect officers from body fluids — over his head. Some of the officers later told investigators that Prude had been spitting at them and they were concerned about the coronavirus, according to Rochester Police documents released by the family that were obtained through a Freedom of Information Request.

Prude continued yelling at the officers, and about a minute later, three officers pulled him to the ground as one pushed his head into the road. 

"You're trying to kill me!" Prude yelled, before making a series of unintelligible sounds and appearing to cry as the officer continued to hold down his head for the next three minutes.  

Paramedics arrived soon after and began speaking with officers, as Prude, who had been speaking loudly throughout the incident, went silent. When an officer asked, "You good, man?" Prude didn't respond, and the officer stopped holding his head against the ground.  

Moments later, an officer said he was vomiting "just straight water," and another pointed out that his chest was no longer moving. The hood was eventually removed from his head, and Prude was given CPR and put on a gurney. 

An activist who appeared at the family's press conference said Prude was brain dead until his death, according to CBS affiliate WROC. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, attributing it to "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint," as well as "excited delirium" and PCP intoxication. 

Daniel Prude's brother, Joe, condemned the actions at a press conference Wednesday. 

"I placed the phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched," Joe said.   

Officers hold Prude's face against the ground.  Elliot Shields

"When I say get lynched, that was full-fledged, murder, cold-blooded — nothing other than cold-blooded murder. The man is defenseless, 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 defenseless Black man, a father's son, a brother's brother, a nephew's uncle," he added, according to WROC.

Rochester Police documents said Joe had called police because his brother had run out of the house after returning from the hospital where he had been admitted for suicidal thoughts. 

The Rochester Police Department did not respond to CBS News' request for comment. 

The release of the footage sparked protests in Rochester on Wednesday. Outside of the city's public safety building, police deployed pepper spray against protesters who tried to knock down barricades, WROC reported.  

Daniel Prude
Daniel Prude Courtesy Roth and Roth LLP via AP

At a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Lovely Warren said that under a 2015 executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general's office has jurisdiction over cases in which an unarmed person is killed by police. Warren said her office is awaiting the results of the attorney general's investigation. 

"As soon as we are allowed to get involved, we move this forward. We will do our investigation. But the law at this point in time precludes us from doing so," she said. "So I want everyone to understand and be very, very clear about where we are right now. The Prude family — I know that they're frustrated right now, but rest assured that we are going to do everything possible to make sure that the truth comes out and that justice is held here." 

Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary also spoke at the press conference, stating he ordered both an internal and a criminal investigation on March 23 and is awaiting the results of the attorney general's investigation.  

"I know that there is rhetoric that is out there that this is a cover-up," he said. "This is not a cover-up. Let me be clear when I say that there is no cover-up whatsoever." 

New York's attorney general confirmed Wednesday that her office is investigating the case. 

In a statement released Wednesday night, the Monroe County Legislature's Black and Asian Caucus said members were "overcome with sadness and disappointment" over Prude's death, and "in full support of a thorough investigation by the New York State Attorney General's office and ask for complete transparency with that investigation."

"It is extremely sad and unfortunate that we have lost yet another life of a citizen who possibly needed mental health support in our County," the caucus said.

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