On Tuesday, February 23, 2021, a grand jury refused to bring criminal charges against the Rochester, New York, police officers who killed Daniel Prude. Last March, Mr. Prude was in a psychiatric crisis, naked in the street outside his brother’s home. He had been visiting his brother from out of town, and shortly before this incident, he was taken to the hospital due to his grave psychiatric condition. As often happens with severely mentally ill people, Mr. Prude was released from the hospital. On the night of his death, Mr. Prude’s brother had called 911 to help Mr. Prude again. Instead of mental health or ambulance personnel, the police responded. This was not a law enforcement situation. It was a mental health situation. Police bodycam footage shows the officers had handcuffed Mr. Prude without incident, and he was never any threat to the officers. Officers then put a spit hood on Mr. Prude, forced him face down, ground his face into the pavement, and officers put their weight on his back. Mr. Prude became unresponsive, and was taken to the hospital. He never regained consciousness, and died a week later.
If any normal person had killed Daniel Prude, they would be criminally prosecuted. Charges would be brought without delay. Instead of charging the officers, New York Attorney General Letitia James chose to convene a secret grand jury to decide whether or not to charge the officers. The only expert she hired was Dr. Gary Vilke, an emergency physician who is a well-known defense expert who only works on behalf of police officers or the manufacturer of Tasers. I have deposed Dr. Vilke when he was the defense expert in two of our cases. In both of the cases he testified, as he always does, that the police restraining our clients did not cause or contribute to their deaths. We defeated his defense, and the defendants paid $7.3 million in one case and $5 million in another, to avoid going to trial. I was shocked to learn that Ms. James had hired this defense expert as her prosecution witness. You don’t hire a demo crew to build a house. Ms. James also told the grand jury that Mr. Prude died of the junk science causation defense ‘excited delirium.’ Given Ms. James’s strategic decisions, nobody should be surprised that the grand jury chose not to indict the officers who killed Mr. Prude. Daniel Prude died of restraint asphyxia. Ms. James should have criminally charged the officers herself, and consulted with lawyers who know how to handle restraint death cases, to help her prove her case. Now the only people who will hold the police accountable for his death are his family members pursuing civil litigation.