The police officers involved in the suffocation death of Daniel Prude in March were following their training when they put a hood over his head and pinned him to the ground for two minutes before noticing he wasn’t breathing, the head of the officers’ union said Friday.
“To me, it looks like they were watching the training in front of them and doing step by step what the training says to do,” said Michael Mazzeo, president of the Locust Club. “If there’s a problem with that, let’s change it.”
The police officers were in a difficult position trying to help someone who appeared to have mental illness, and they didn’t intend to cause Prude harm, he said. The hood, he said, was standard equipment intended to protect officers from germs.
The mayor suspended seven Rochester police officers Thursday, pending completion of an investigation into their roles in the death of Prude, a black man who had just arrived in the city to visit family.
Prude, who was 41, died seven days after officers encountered him, 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.
One of the officers then held his face to the pavement while another put a knee into his back until Prude stopped speaking or moving. Waiting medics started CPR when the officers realized Prude wasn’t breathing.
Mayor Lovely Warren announced the suspensions at a news conference Thursday amid outrage that city officials had kept quiet about Prude’s death for months.
While denying a cover-up, Warren said that Prude “was failed by the police department, our mental-health-care system, our society, and he was failed by me.”
Hours after the announcement, protesters demonstrated late into the night outside police headquarters in the city of 210,000, New York’s third-largest.
Officers doused some protesters with a chemical spray and repeatedly fired an irritant into the crowd to drive activists from metal barricades ringing the building. Protesters protected themselves with umbrellas and dashed for cover but returned and were fired on again.
A medical examiner concluded that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report lists excited delirium and acute drug intoxication as contributing factors.
Police officers “absolutely” need more help in dealing with people who are mentally ill or on drugs, Mazzeo said.
“It wasn’t that long ago when New York state mental-health facilities were closed and people were put out on the street, and who was the only other agency who was able to deal with them? The police,” he said. “We definitely need changes and help.”