A Black man died of suffocation in Rochester, N.Y., after police officers who were taking him into custody put a hood over his head and then pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes, according to video and records released by his family and local activists on Wednesday.
The man, Daniel Prude, 41, died on March 30, seven days after his encounter with the police, after being removed from life support, his family said.
His death occurred two months before the killing in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off protests across the United States. But it only attracted widespread attention Wednesday when his family held a news conference to highlight disturbing video footage of the encounter taken from body cameras that the police officers wore.
The New York State attorney general, Letitia James, and the Rochester police chief said they were conducting inquiries into the death. The officers involved are still on the force.
Mr. Prude’s family had called 911 on March 23 after Mr. Prude, who was visiting from Chicago, apparently began experiencing mental health problems. He began running through the street before Rochester police officers detained him.
The video, first reported by the Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, shows Mr. Prude, who has taken off his clothes, with his hands behind his back. He is standing on the pavement in handcuffs, shouting, before officers put a hood on his head, apparently in an effort to prevent him from spitting on them. At the time, New York was in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
After the hood is placed over Mr. Prude’s head, he becomes more agitated. At one point, he shouts, “Give me that gun. Give me that gun,” and three officers push him to the ground.
The video shows one officer placing both hands on Mr. Prude’s head and holding him against the pavement, while another places a knee on his back, even as the hood remains on his head.
One officer repeatedly tells Mr. Prude to “stop spitting” and to “calm down.”
After two minutes, Mr. Prude is no longer moving or speaking, and the same officer can be heard asking, “You good, man?”
The officer then notices that Mr. Prude had thrown up water onto the street.
A paramedic is called over, about five minutes after the officers placed the hood on Mr. Prude’s head, to perform CPR on him before he is taken into an ambulance.
The Monroe County medical examiner ruled Mr. Prude’s death a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” according to an autopsy report.
At the news conference on Wednesday, activists and members of Mr. Prude’s family called his death a murder and said the officers involved should be fired and charged with homicide, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.
“These officers killed someone and are still patrolling in our community,” said Ashley Gantt, a local community organizer.
What happened to Mr. Prude was not an isolated episode, she said. “Daniel’s case is the epitome of what is wrong with this system,” Ms. Gantt said.
At a separate news conference, Rochester’s police chief, La’Ron D. Singletary, said he understood that people were angry about Mr. Prude’s death and frustrated about the lack of action in the matter, as well as about the delay in releasing the video.
“I know that there is a rhetoric that is out there that this is a cover-up,” Chief Singletary said. “This is not a cover-up.”
Ms. James said in a statement that a unit in her office dedicated to investigating deaths in which the police are involved had already opened an inquiry.
“The death of Daniel Prude was a tragedy,” Ms. James said, adding that “as with every investigation, we will follow the facts of this case and ensure a complete and thorough examination of all relevant parties.”
Rochester’s mayor, Lovely Warren, speaking at the same news conference as the police chief, said she had been “very disturbed” by what the video showed.
“This is not something that’s in our wheelhouse, in our control at this moment in time,” Ms. Warren said in an apparent reference to the attorney general’s inquiry. “And had it been, for me this would be something that we would’ve talked about months ago.”
On Wednesday night, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he had not yet seen the video, but had been briefed on it.
“The way it was described is very disturbing,” said the governor, who noted that he had asked Ms. James to investigate the death, via an executive order, in July.
Mr. Cuomo said he did not want to comment on the status of Ms. James’s investigation, but “people should know that it is under investigation and has been for months.”
Jesse McKinley contributed reporting from Albany.