- PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI
- Joe Prude, brother of Daniel Prude, speaks during a Free the People Roc news conference on Thursday, Sept. 2.
Organizers with Free the People Roc, which formed following the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin, convened Thursday in front of the city Public Safety Building on Exchange Street. They once again called for the firing of officers Mark Vaughn, Francisco Santiago, and Troy Taladay, all of whom pinned Prude to the pavement during a March 23, 2020, encounter.
They’re also calling for the termination of officers who were on the scene, including Paul Ricotta, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Micheal Magri.
“Prude was experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Stanley Martin, an organizer and City Council candidate. “What ensued after, abject violence, and a display of the institutional racism embedded in the Rochester Police Department.”
Free the People also called on District Attorney Sandra Doorley to resign and demanded a 50 percent cut to the Rochester Police Department budget as well as the passage of a state bill, named Daniel’s Law, which if enacted would reform the way counties and agencies across New York respond to mental health crises.
Police encountered Prude on Jefferson Avenue in the early hours of March 23. He was naked, acting erratically, and under mental distress, but initially he complied with officers’ orders. Ultimately, however, the officers restrained Prude using a technique known as “segmenting,” in which weight is applied to the head, back and legs of the restrained.
As the officers restrained Prude he became unresponsive. He was transported by ambulance to Strong Memorial Hospital, where he died a week later.
On Sept. 2, 2020, activists and attorneys representing some of Prude’s family released police body-worn camera footage of the incident, prompting a severe public backlash directed at City Hall and the Rochester Police Department. The footage was obtained by attorney Elliot Shields, who filed a Freedom of Information Law request for it.
Public anger over Prude’s death and the way both City Hall and the RPD handled information about it ultimately damaged Mayor Lovely Warren’s reelection prospects and led La’Ron Singletary, then the police chief, to resign. Members of the RPD’s command staff also resigned or were demoted.
Days after Singletary announced his resignation, which was to be effective at the end of September 2020, Warren sacked him.
Attorney General Letitia James empaneled a grand jury to determine whether any of the officers should be tried on criminal charges, but in February she announced that jurors decided the officers should not be indicted.
In April, James released the full grand jury report, after securing a judge’s authorization to do so. Included in the report was testimony from Gary Vilke, a nationally-known, California-based medical expert who stated that Prude died from “excited delirium,” a controversial condition often cited when people die in police restraint or custody. Vilke has previously invoked the condition
Vilke had previously used similar arguments to defend officers in instances where people have died in police custody.
“The one thing I’m always asked from my family is, ‘When is this going to be resolved?’” said Joe Prude, brother of Daniel Prude. “I have no answers for them. Letitia James did what? Nothing. Sandra Doorley did what? Nothing. (Rochester Police Locust Club President) Mike Mazzeo did what? Nothing.”
Free the People is also demanding that charges lodged against protestors during demonstrations this year and last be dropped. Ashley Gantt, an organizer with Free the People, faces charges of trespassing and resisting arrest after she and several other of the group’s organizers and key members forced their way into a section of the Public Safety Building, where Mayor Lovely Warren was set to hold a news conference. She is set to go to trial for those charges, which are both misdemeanors, in December.
“There were numerous arrests, there are ongoing cases, there were people that were forced to plea down to avoid excessive sentences for protesting,” Gantt said.
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or email@example.com.