ROCHESTER, N.Y. (CBS/AP) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren promised reforms are coming to the city’s police department as community elders sought to bring calmer minds to a fifth night of demonstrations Sunday over the March death of Daniel Prude, a Black man from Chicago who lost consciousness after police in Rochester held him down with a hood over his head.
Warren announced at a news conference Sunday that the crisis intervention team and its budget would move from the police department to the city’s department of youth and recreation services. Warren did not provide specifics, but said the move would be part of a series of reforms planned for “the coming weeks, months and years.”
“We had a human being in a need of help, in need of compassion. In that moment we had an opportunity to protect him, to keep him warm, to bring him to safety, to begin the process of healing him and lifting him up,” Warren said. “We have to own the fact that in the moment we did not do that.”
Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, who joined Warren at the news conference, said he supports the need for reform in his department and is working with experts and clinicians in getting outpatient services for people with mental health issues that bring them into repeated police contact.
Prude, 41, was a Chicago resident visiting Rochester on March 23, when his brother called the police because he was having a mental health issue. From there, the moments leading up to his eventual death were all captured on police body camera.
The body cam video shows Rochester officers detaining a naked 41-year-old Daniel Prude in the early hours of March 23. Prude was ordered to lie on the ground.
Police put his hands behind his back and handcuffed him. The video shows Prude yelling and spitting as he lies completely naked on the snow-covered ground. A white spit hood is placed on his head.
Later, an officer appears to be pushing his head into the pavement.
Several seconds pass, and Prude becomes unresponsive. Prude was taken to the hospital, where he died days later. His death was ruled a homicide, caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
Seven Rochester police officers have been suspended with pay in connection to the incident. They are identified by CBS affiliate WROC-TV as officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.
But the head of the union representing police officers in Rochester said the video of Prude suffocating after being taken into custody does not tell the whole story about what happened that night in March.
Protests have followed each day in Rochester since Prude’s family released the video on Wednesday.
Some activists have called for Mayor Warren and Chief Singletary to resign. But Warren called for police reform to address mental health issues instead.
“We will take our family crisis intervention team out of the police department,” Mayor Warren said, as quoted by WROC. “We will fully engage with the RASE commission and a real, rapid response team to further improve our response to mental heath crisis and reimagine our police department.”
“I understand that there are certain calls that law enforcement shouldn’t handle alone,” Chief Singletary was quoted by the station.
When asked if she would consider resigning, the station reported, Mayor Warren said now is a time for leadership.
“For everything that we have seen this year it is clear to me that there is more work to be done and I am committed to doing what’s necessary and I know that the chief is committed to doing what’s necessary to better serve our citizens and our community,” Warren was quoted.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered again Sunday in Rochester, calling for justice and saying Prude’s name – and also calling for charging the officers involved in Prude’s death.
On Sunday night, police said more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered in downtown Rochester as people chanting “We are elders, and we support our youth” and “say his name, Daniel Prude” led a march to the Public Safety Building that houses police headquarters.
Three officers were treated at hospitals for injuries they suffered when “projectiles and incendiary devices” were hurled at them during Saturday night’s protests over Prude’s death, Lt. Greg Bello of the Rochester police said in a news release. Nine protesters were arrested.
The Democrat and Chronicle reported that some protesters were hit by projectiles as well as thousands marched through the streets of Rochester, New York’s third-largest city. No information about injuries to protesters was provided by police.
The Rev. Myra Brown called for about 50 church elders to gather at Spiritus Christi Church in downtown Rochester on Sunday evening to serve as a “buffer” so protesters are free to express themselves without police interference.
“We elders have volunteered to put our bodies on the line to make sure that happens,” Brown said at the news conference with the mayor and police chief Sunday.
The New York Civil Liberties Union criticized the police use of “military tactics,” including sound cannons, flash bangs, tear gas, and pepper balls against the demonstrators.
“People speaking out are not enemy combatants, and to fire flash bangs, tear gas, and pepper balls at demonstrations against police violence only proves the point,” NYCLU Genesee Valley chapter director Iman Abid said in a statement Sunday. “The mayor and RPD must stop these warfare tactics now.”
On Saturday, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced she was moving to empanel a grand jury to investigate Prude’s death.
Antonio Romanucci of Romanucci & Blandin, an attorney for Prude’s family, reacted Sunday to James’ decision to empanel a grand jury. He said, “While it is very concerning that it took nearly six months, we are pleased to see a grand jury will now address the incident that took Daniel Prude’s life in March of 2020.”
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)