ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Attorneys for the five children of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after being restrained by police during a mental health episode, announced a federal lawsuit Monday against the city of Rochester and at least six police officers, alleging wrongful death and civil rights violations.
The family claims in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court that both the actions of the Rochester police and an “attempted cover-up” by the department and city government violated Prude’s constitutional rights, attorneys for the family said.
A grand jury in February declined to bring criminal charges against the officers.
“My father had a hard life, but he was a great dad. He always showed me and my brother and sisters how much he loved us,” Prude’s oldest son, Nathaniel McFarland, said in a statement. “Our hearts are broken by his death, but this lawsuit has given us hope for the future.”
Prude, 41, died in March 2020, several days after police officers, whom Prude’s brother had called for help, put a spit hood over his head and pressed his naked body against the street until he stopped breathing.
Police initially described his death as a drug overdose. The county medical examiner listed the manner of death as a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint” and cited the drug PCP as a contributing factor.
The death went mostly unpublicized until nearly six months later, when police body camera video was released following pressure from Prude’s family. Emails released later showed Rochester police commanders urged city officials to hold off on publicly releasing the footage because they feared violent blowback if it came out during nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Prude had been visiting relatives from his home in Chicago, where McFarland and three of his other siblings live.
“His family sought help from the Rochester police, and that was a mistake — a fatal mistake. Instead of providing him with care and assistance, officers of the Rochester Police Department cruelly abused him, mocked him, and killed him,” according to the complaint.
Attorneys for the officers have said they were following their training in using a technique on Prude known as “segmenting,” where officers use their body weight to immobilize a person’s head and body.
Prude family attorney Matthew Piers said Prude was in obvious need of physical and mental assistance when officers caught up with him after he bolted from his brother’s house and shed his clothes as he ran through the city after 3 a.m.
“You could hardly find an example of a worse response to a mental health crisis when what happened to Daniel Prude that night,” Piers said during a video news conference with McFarland, who did not speak.
The complaint includes excerpts from police officers’ incident reports, which attorneys allege were altered to make them more police-friendly. One includes a notation suggesting Prude be reclassified as a suspect, rather than victim.
Attorney Stephen Schwarz cited a culture in Rochester of “deliberate indifference to the rights of Blacks and Latinos who encounter its police officers.”
City spokesperson Justin Roj, when asked for comment Monday morning, said he had not been notified of the lawsuit. He did not immediately respond later in the day after Prude family attorneys outlined their claims in a news conference.
The complaint replaces legal claims previously brought by Prude’s sister.