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Video reveals police suffocation from March

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 9/03/20, 04:04 am

A black man with mental health issues died from asphyxiation after police officers in Rochester, N.Y., covered his head with a “spit hood” and pressed his face to the pavement for two minutes. Details from the March 23 incident surfaced after Daniel Prude’s family on Wednesday obtained video and reports from a public records request. New York Attorney General Letitia James said an investigation is ongoing. Protesters gathered Wednesday outside Rochester’s police headquarters and at the spot where Prude died, where they chanted and prayed.

What transpired during the arrest? Officers first took Prude into custody for a mental health evaluation on March 22 after he had suicidal thoughts. Police responded to a second call at 3 a.m the next day from his brother, who reported Prude had left the house. Police handcuffed Prude after locating him on the streets without clothes on. Officers said they covered his head with the hood over fears of COVID-19 as he became agitated and began spitting. As Prude demanded they remove the covering, one officer pressed his face against the pavement while another placed a knee on his back, urging him to calm down. Prude, who at the time had PCP in his system, died seven days later on March 30 after he was taken off life support.

Dig deeper: Read Anna Johansen’s report on her visit to Kenosha, Wis.

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Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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  • Nanamiro
    Posted: Thu, 09/03/2020 06:48 pm

    A very similar incident happened to a mentally ill man in Dallas in 2016. Officers kneeled on his back to calm him down. The man stopped breathing at some point and died. But in this case the man who died was white, so no one heard about it. Strange how if it happens to a black man, we all hear about it, it makes the news.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 09/04/2020 02:39 pm

    It's sad that Prude and other mentally ill persons have died. I think some questions should be asked, but apparently the media and public figures are afraid to for fear of being called "racist" and cancelled:

    For instance, is it the fault of Law Enforcement that Prude suffered from mental illness?

    Is it the fault of Law Enforcement that Prude was using drugs?

    Is it the fault of Law Enforcement that Prude began to fight and attack Officers?  I.e. spitting, in this case.

    Does Law Enforcement have a right to protect themselves when they are attacked?  I.e. restrain a subject, put a "spit mask" on him, etc.

    Apparently, "woke" people believe the answer to the last question is always "NO" regardless of what harm the subject may inflict on Law Enforcement Officers. Subject has gun or knife?  Police should just walk away, I guess. Unfortunately that would still result in Officers' deaths. "Woke" people must feel everyone has a right to go home to their families at the end of the day, except Law Enforcement Officers. 

  • khusmann
    Posted: Fri, 09/04/2020 11:12 pm

    I see a problem with police officers who think that restraining someone in this manner will calm him down. No, it's not the fault of the officers if someone is on drugs or mentally ill or has other problems. But police need to recognize when someone has limited capacity, and use appropriate techniques to deal with such people. They need a markedly different approach than if they're dealing with a violent criminal who is fully functional and capable. They need to see all people as people, not some as trash or dirt. Yes, I'm in the "more training" camp.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Sat, 09/05/2020 01:13 am

    Mr. or Ms. Khusmann, you are obviously a person who cares for your fellow man. Do have ideas for how someone like Daniel Prude could be restrained in a manner that would be less risky to him, without also putting officers at greater risk?  For that matter, I'm asking the same question of everyone reading this.  

    I'm not asking this sarcastically at all. I have given the subject a bit of thought myself and haven't come up with anything that really seems viable, and that would solve the problem of restraining without danger of asphyxiation, and that would not introduce other hazards. 

    This is definitely a problem that creative minds need to work on. 

  • not silent
    Posted: Sun, 09/06/2020 05:01 pm

    If I may, OldMike, I seriously doubt anyone intended to harm Mr. Prude.  It might help SOME people to be held face down with a mask over their face, but I think most would feel trapped and suffocated and fight to get free.  There are other ways to subdue someone with mental illness.  On a psych ward, they are trained to do "takedowns" without hurting the person. It can be very hard to know what to do when someone isn't acting rational, but training in de-escalation and proper restraint might help. 

    I have friends and family who struggle with mental illness; and, unfortunately, more than one of them has had bad experiences with police.  (One was sexually harrassed and another was mocked to her face. These were two different cities, two different situations, and two different police departments.  And those were people I know personally.  I think one problem is that it's tempting to view the mentally ill as "weird" or "different" instead of keeping in mind that they are human beings who happen to be ill.)   I've seen a "takedown" on a psych ward, and it was terrifying to watch; but no one was harmed.

    Unfortunately this is not the kind of situation that can easily be "fixed."  There are simply not enough resources to help people with mental health challenges and addiction, and some of the ones who are most in need can't access the services that are there due to cost, inaccessibility, etc. Not all mental illness is the same: someone with paranoid schizophrenia may act very differently from someone with bipolar disorder or someone with PTSD.  

    I have heard it suggested that social workers be used in cases like this, and there are probably cases where that would be helpful; but the social workers I know are all overworked and underpaid as it is (i.e., I don't think cutting funding will help AT ALL).  We need creative minds to work on this but we also need people who know what they are doing to give input.

    Posted: Tue, 09/08/2020 02:01 pm

    Will there be an update on this incident? Other news sources report that Daniel Prude was intoxicated with PCP. Also, Prude threatened to infect the police officers with COVID-19 by spitting on them. The "spit hood" was a mesh bag that allowed ventilation much as (or even more than) the obligatory masks we wear to "protect" us from COVID-19.

    Why has there been six months from the time of the incident to a new "investigation"? The police officers involved cooperated with a criminal investigation immediately after the death of Daniel Prude -- which was 7 days after the incident. The police chief had indicated that "there was no concerns with the actions of [the policemen] and they had [been] following correct protocols, per their training" on the use of the "spit hood."