Daniel Prude case: Grand jury voted 15-5 to clear 3 police officers in death

Newly released transcripts show that a grand jury investigating the police suffocation death of Daniel Prude last year in Rochester, New York, voted 15-5 not to charge the three officers involved in his restraint of a criminally negligent homicide charge sought by prosecutors.

That was the only charge prosecutors from the state attorney general’s office asked the grand jury to consider after nine days of testimony from witnesses including Prude’s brother, other police officers and experts.

The names of witnesses and jurors were blacked out of the transcripts, which were released Friday, weeks after State Attorney General Letitia James secured a judge’s OK to make the usually secret material public.

The release of the transcripts in the case of Prude, who was Black, comes at a sensitive time for the issue of race in policing. Testimony is ending in the trial of former Officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis in the killing of George Floyd. And on Thursday, bodycam video was released that showed a Chicago police officer fatally shoot a 13-year-old last month less than a second after the boy appeared to drop a handgun, turn toward the officer and begin raising his hands.

One Prude juror praised the prosecution team for helping make sense of the case, telling them: "You guys did amazing work. If it wasn’t for everything that you presented to us, I don’t think anybody would have come up with a decision. You worked very hard and I’m sure nobody took it lightly. It was a very serious case. It’s horrible what happened to him."

At one point, prosecutor Michael Smith drew grand jurors’ attention to a part of a 2015 Rochester Police Department training bulletin that explained that "positional asphyxia may occur when the position of the person’s body interferes with respiration, resulting in serious injury or death" and that the risk of such asphyxia "can increase when the person is restrained in a prone position."

A body camera video, made public by Prude’s family in early September, months after his death in March 2020, shows Prude handcuffed and naked with a spit hood over his head as an officer pushes his face against the ground, while another officer presses a knee to his back. The officers held him down for about 2 minutes until he stopped breathing. He was taken off life support a week later.

A medical examiner called it a homicide and cited PCP as a factor.

The images sparked nightly protests in the city, which has also been roiled by body cam footage of white officers using pepper spray on a 9-year-old Black girl who was handcuffed in the back of a squad car.

An investigation into the official response that was released last month faulted the city’s mayor and former police chief for keeping critical details of the case secret for months and lying to the public about what they knew.