By Gabriella Borter and Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Seven Rochester, New York police officers were suspended on Thursday over the asphyxiation death of a Black man who they arrested in March in a brutal incident only revealed in videotape footage made public this week.
The tape, which was recorded by an officer’s body camera, shows a group of officers putting a mesh hood over Daniel Prude’s head as he kneels naked and restrained on a Rochester street and snow falls around him.
The recording was released on Wednesday by members of Prude’s family, who called for the arrest of the officers. Prude, 41, died seven days after the March 23 arrest in Rochester, a city of roughly 200,000 on Lake Ontario.
The incident has become another flashpoint in a summer of sometimes violent demonstrations over what activists say is an epidemic of police brutality and racism against African-Americans.
Protests broke out on Wednesday in downtown Rochester and on Thursday, some 300 miles to the south, several dozen people demonstrated in Times Square in New York City, demanding justice for Prude and police reform.
Rochester’s mayor and police chief have also faced questions over why the officers did not face discipline until the videotape became public five months after the incident.
“Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police department, our mental health care system, our society, and he was failed by me,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren told reporters on Thursday.
“I’m filled with grief, and anger at myself for all the failures that lead to his death.”
Warren, who is Black, said that “institutional and structural racism” led to Prude’s death but insisted she did not become aware of the circumstances around the arrest until August.
BROTHER SAYS PRUDE WAS ‘LYNCHED’
Rochester police chief La’Ron Singletary, who is Black, has said that internal and criminal investigations were underway. An attorney for Prude’s family did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Family members obtained the body camera footage after filing a freedom of information act request, CBS-affiliate WROC-TV reported.
Prude’s death has been ruled a homicide by the Monroe County medical examiner’s office, which found the cause of death to be “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” according to an autopsy report obtained by the New York Times.
The autopsy report found that “excited delirium” and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or the drug PCP, were also contributing factors to his death, the Times reported.
The office of New York’s attorney general is investigating the case, as state law requires whenever police are involved in a civilian’s death.
The video footage shows an officer placed a “spit hood” over Prude’s head as the restrained man is heard shouting, “Take this…off my face!” and “You’re trying to kill me!” Officers are heard saying “Calm down” and “stop spitting.”
The video later shows an officer kneeling on Prude’s back, who is silent as snow falls around them and someone is heard saying: “Start CPR.” Minutes later, Prude is seen being loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher.
Prude’s family told reporters that Prude had been struggling with mental health. His brother, Joe Prude, said he had called police because he was worried when his brother left home that night.
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe Prude said.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Jonathan Allen in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Alistair Bell, Marguerita Choy and Michael Perry)