Seven NY police officers suspended over Black man’s death following hooded restraint

March 23, 2020, image taken from police bodycam video released by Rochester police department shows police arresting Daniel Prude.
March 23, 2020, image taken from police bodycam video released by Rochester police department shows police arresting Daniel Prude. AFP - -

Seven Rochester, New York police officers were suspended on Thursday, while protesters took to the streets, after video footage was released of the arrest that led to a Black man’s death by asphyxiation in March.

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Several hundred peaceful demonstrators marched Thursday in New York’s Times Square over the death of a black man that police hooded and forced face down on the road, according to video footage that prompted a probe from the state’s attorney general.

The demonstrators gathered under a steady rain to demand justice for Daniel Prude, whose family said he died on March 30 after being removed from life support, seven days after the police encounter upstate in the city of Rochester.

Dubbing the footage “deeply disturbing”, New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday said he had “full faith” the attorney general’s investigation would “ensure that justice is served”.

The 41-year-old’s family and activists made his death public Wednesday, after receiving body cam footage through an open records request.

The news of yet another police killing of an African American triggered fresh outrage, three months after protests ignited nationwide over George Floyd, who was choked to death during an arrest while handcuffed.

Prude’s family demanded legal action against the officers involved, who were suspended on Thursday.

Letitia James, New York state’s top prosecutor, said an investigation was underway.

“The Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit of my office is already actively investigating this incident,” said a statement from Attorney General Letitia James.

“We will work tirelessly to provide the transparency and accountability that all our communities deserve.”

'The man is defenseless'

Prude's brother told reporters he called police to take his brother into custody on March 23 after he suffered a mental health episode and had bolted, naked, outside the house.

“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched,” Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, said at the news conference. “How did you see him and not directly say, ‘The man is defenseless, buck naked on the ground. He’s cuffed up already. Come on.’ How many more brothers gotta die for society to understand that this needs to stop?"

The videos show a naked Prude complying when police ask him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Prude is agitated and shouting as he sits on the pavement in handcuffs for a few moments as a light snow falls. “Give me your gun, I need it,” he shouts.

The police officers then put a white “spit hood” over his head, a device intended to protect officers from a detainee's saliva. At the time, New York was in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prude immediately demands they remove the hood, videos show.

The officers slam Prude's head into the street and one officer, who is White, holds his head down against the pavement with both hands, saying “calm down” and “stop spitting”. Another officer places a knee on his back.

Prude then lost consciousness and officers tried to resuscitate him before he was taken to hospital. But he died a week later when life support was switched off.

Autopsy deems homicide caused by ‘complications of asphyxia’

According to the local daily, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, an autopsy called the death a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint”.

The report also noted a low level of the drug PCP in Prude's blood, listing it as a complication.

“He was treated inhumanely and without dignity,” community organiser Ashley Gantt was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

“These officers killed someone and are still patrolling in our community.”

Since the death in May of George Floyd at the hands of a policeman in Minneapolis, several US cities have been rocked by protests under the umbrella of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Opponents of the movement have also protested, frequently leading to violent clashes and pushing law and order high up the agenda for November's presidential election.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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