New York Attorney General Letitia James will empanel a grand jury as part of the investigation into. Prude died in March, seven days after officers pressed his head into the ground after they encountered him running naked through the street, handcuffed him, then tried to stop him from spitting by putting a mesh bag called a spit hood, or a spit sock, over his head.
“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish,” James said in a statement, according to CBS Rochester affiliate WROC.
James’ announcement comes as the city has been rocked by protests for four nights, with protesters demanding more accountability from law enforcement and legislation to change how authorities respond to mental health emergencies.
Advocates for such legislation say Prude’s death and the actions of seven now-suspended Rochester police officers — including one who covered the Black man’s head with a “spit hood” during the March encounter — demonstrate how police are ill-equipped to deal with people suffering mental problems.
Having police respond can be a “recipe for disaster,” The National Alliance on Mental Illness said in a statement Friday.
Prude’s death “is yet another harrowing tragedy, but a story not unfamiliar to us,” the advocacy group said. “People in crisis deserve help, not handcuffs.”
Stanley Martin, an organizer of Free the People Rochester, told reporters: “We do not need violent workers with guns to respond to mental health crises.”
Activists have marched nightly in the city of 210,000 on Lake Ontario since police body camera videos of the encounter with Prude were released this week by his family.
Friday night’s protest resulted in 11 arrests, police said. As they had the night before, officers doused activists at police headquarters with a chemical spray to drive them from barricades around the building.
As the night wore on, demonstrators were pushed further back, as police fired what appeared to be pepper balls. Fireworks were shot off and a bus stop was set on fire.
Prude’s family has said he appeared to be spiraling into crisis in the hours before police handcuffed him on a street and pinned the naked man face down. In the video, police are also seen covering his head with the white “spit hood,” designed to protect police from bodily fluids.
“You’re trying to kill me!” the 41-year-old man is heard saying. He died days later in what the medical examiner ruled was a homicide.
the officers involved in the encounter, saying they were strictly following department training and protocols, including using the mesh hood.