New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Sunday that her office will proactively release police body-camera footage in light of Daniel Prude’s fatal encounter with Rochester police officers and the subsequent protests that broke out more than five months later when the video of the incident was finally made public.
Speaking in Rochester, James announced a new policy that her office “will be proactively releasing footage to the public on our own” as part of investigations into police-involved civilian deaths. Previously, local authorities had the discretion to determine when the video would be made available.
“Up until now, the release of footage has been up to the discretion of local authorities, but this process has caused confusion, delays and has hampered transparency in a system that should be as open as possible,” James said outside the Aenon Missionary Baptist Church. “Starting immediately, the office of attorney general will proactively release video footage to the public on our own.”
“We will be doing this with an eye to making the footage available to the public as quickly as possible, publicizing the footage as soon as we have shown it to the deceased’s family,” she said, explaining that her office obtains footage, “as part of investigations conducted by our special prosecutions unit.”
It was unclear how many cases would be affected by the policy since the attorney general's office does not review all footage of police interactions with the public.
James spoke in Rochester after meeting with family members of Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who police found running naked in a street around 3 a.m. on March 23. Officers put a hood over his head to stop him from spitting, then held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. He died a week later when he was taken off life support.
Prude's death sparked nightly protests after his relatives released police body-camera video and written reports they obtained through a public records request in early September. James announced on Sept. 5 that she would impanel a grand jury to investigate his death.
An autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Prude died by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint” and classified the manner of death a homicide. The report also stated Prude had a clinical history of “agitation and combative behavior” and “suicidal ideations and possible auditory hallucinations and paranoia.” Toxicology studies showed he was under “acute phencyclidine intoxication” at the time.
His brother, Joe Prude, had called 911 seeking help for Daniel Prude's unusual behavior twice within an 11-hour time frame.
James said Sunday she also met with leaders of the protests and indicated that her office may investigate allegations of excessive force by police patrolling the protests, as she did following New York City protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
James said protesters who believe they have witnessed police brutality should contact her office's civil rights bureau "so that we can determine whether or not we will seek jurisdiction in investigating the activities between Rochester protesters and the Rochester Police Department.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren fired Police Chief La'Ron Singletary and suspended her top lawyer and communications director in the aftermath of Prude’s death. After the footage was made public, seven officers who were present during the encounter with Prude were suspended without pay. Protesters have called for criminal charges against the officers and are demanding that Warren resign herself.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.