The grand jury in Daniel Prude's death is finished

As you may recall, in March of last year, Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Rochester, New York, died one week after being taken into police custody. When a video of Prude’s encounter with law enforcement went viral, riots erupted, sending the city into chaos in a manner similar to what we saw in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Jason Blake. A coroner eventually listed the cause of death as a homicide, though with complicating factors. The matter was turned over to a grand jury shortly after that and the investigation continued for months. Now the grand jury has finished their work and the BLM movement isn’t going to be satisfied with the results. No charges have been brought against the officers. (Associated Press)

Police officers who put a hood over the head of a mentally distraught Black man, then pressed his body against the pavement until he stopped breathing will not face criminal charges after a grand jury declined to indict them, New York’s attorney general announced Tuesday.

Daniel Prude, 41, died last March, several days after his encounter with police in Rochester, New York. Police initially described his death as a drug overdose. It went mostly unnoticed. But nightly protests erupted after body camera video was released nearly six months later following pressure from Prude’s family.

Attorney General Letitia James, whose office took over the investigation, said her office had “presented the strongest case possible” to the grand jury, but couldn’t persuade it that the officers had committed a crime.

“I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community and communities across the country will rightfully be disappointed by this outcome,” said James, who traveled to Rochester to announce the grand jury’s decision at a church near where Prude was fatally injured.

Officials in Rochester were immediately put on standby in case more riots took place after the announcement. The way New York’s Attorney General handled the announcement isn’t helping matters, either. Coming out on camera and basically apologizing for failing to indict the officers only serves to undermine the public’s faith in the grand jury system. If anything, Letitia James is throwing more fuel on the fire by insinuating that the grand jury got it wrong and people would be “rightfully disappointed.”

But it’s worth asking whether the grand jury might have “gotten it wrong.” The Rochester Police didn’t do themselves any favors by trying to keep the video from being released to the media. That only served to make it look like some sort of coverup had taken place.

And yet, given the circumstances of Prude’s detention, this was never going to be an easy case to make serious charges stick. As I mentioned above, the coroner originally found that Daniel Prude had died as the result of a homicide combined with “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint, excited delirium [and] acute phencyclidine [PCP] intoxication,” An EMT responding to the scene was heard in the video telling the police that that “PCP causes ‘excited delirium’ and I guarantee you that’s why he coded.”

Prude was asphyxiated because he had a “spit hood” placed over his head because he was spitting at the officers. That was done because of precautions surrounding the COVID pandemic. None of this is meant to say that the cops didn’t go overboard. They probably should have noticed the lapse in Prude’s respiration sooner and ensured he was able to breathe.

But does that add up to homicide? I wouldn’t have been shocked if they’d been indicted on some version of reckless endangerment. But given how far gone he was on PCP at the time and the fact that his own brother had called emergency services on him twice in the same day because he was considered a danger to himself and others, it seems that the grand jury just wasn’t convinced. Personally, since I wasn’t on the jury to hear all of the evidence, I remain on the fence.

Don’t be surprised if there are more protests and/or riots coming in the aftermath of this grand jury decision. It’s a repeating pattern that has quickly become the norm in cities around the country.