“I am suspending the officers in question today against counsel’s advice, and I urge the attorney general to complete her investigation,” Mayor Lovely Warren said at a news conference.
Prude, 41, was arrested on March 23 by Rochester police officers. Prude’s relatives had called police to report that he was suffering from a mental episode. Officers found him running naked in the street. He initially complied when officers asked him to put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. Later, Prude sat up and began spitting at the officers while saying he had contracted the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.
Officers then put a spit guard over his head and pinned him to the ground face down for about two minutes to restrain him, after which he stopped breathing. Prude received CPR on the scene and was taken to hospital. He died seven days later, on March 30, after being taken off life support.
A medical examiner concluded that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report lists excited delirium and acute intoxication by the recreational drug phencyclidine, or PCP, as contributing factors.
The names of the seven arresting officers are: Sgt. Michael Magri, Officer Josiah Harris, Officer Paul Ricotta, Officer Francisco Santiago, Officer Andrew Specksgoor, Officer Troy Taladay, and Officer Mark Vaughn. They would still be paid due to contract rules, Warren said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office took over the investigation of Prude’s death in April. The investigation is ongoing. James said in a statement on Thursday, “The Prude family and the greater Rochester community deserve answers, and we will continue to work around the clock to provide them.”
The mayor said on Thursday that she only became aware that Prude’s death involved the use of force on Aug. 4, and that Police Chief La’Ron Singletary initially portrayed it as a drug overdose. She said that was “entirely different” to what she saw on the body camera video.
Warren said she told the chief she was “deeply, personally, and professionally disappointed” in his communication to her about what happened to Prude.
Approached at a community event, Singletary declined to comment but said he would speak later, reported The Associated Press.
Prude “was failed by the police department, our mental health care system, our society, and he was failed by me,” Warren said, amid criticism that the city kept quiet about Prude’s death for months.
“I understand that the union may sue the city for this,” she said, referring to the announcement of the suspensions. “They shall feel free to do so.”
The police union representing the Rochester officers did not immediately respond for comment requests by The Associated Press.
Prude’s family held a news conference on Wednesday and released police body camera video that was obtained through a public records request that captured Prude’s interaction with the officers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.