The city of Rochester, New York, is moving crisis intervention out of the police department amid outrage and protests over the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man with mental health issues who died after officers placed a spit hood over his head and restrained him.
Mayor Lovely Warren announced that the crisis intervention department and its budget would be moved to the city's Department of Youth and Recreation Services during a news conference Sunday. Protests following the release of video of the incident involving Prude in March have continued for days.
"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 told reporters that he recognized the need for reform in his department and that he was working with experts and clinicians to get outpatient services for those who struggle with mental health and are in repeated contact with police.
"I understand that there are certain calls that law enforcement shouldn't handle alone, and we are looking at ways to reimagine policing surrounding mental health and have been for the last several months," Singletary said.
It is unclear when the intervention team will officially leave the department and whether or how police would respond to calls regarding mental health crises in the future.
The mayor and the chief were asked at the news conference whether they had contemplated resigning. Warren said she was committed to staying and seeing through reforms in the city. Singletary would say only that reports of his resignation were a "rumor" and that he had not been asked to step down. Warren reiterated her full support for Singletary.
Relatives of Prude, 41, released police videos of the March 23 encounter on Wednesday and Thursday and claimed that they show that officers used excessive force. Prude died of "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint," with the drug PCP listed as a contributing factor, according to an autopsy report from Monroe County Medical Examiner Nadia Granger.
Warren announced Thursday that seven officers had been suspended, and New York Attorney General Letitia James said Saturday that she has empowered a state grand jury to investigate Prude's death.
Prude's brother, Joe Prude, said he had mental health and drug problems and had been acting out on March 22. Joe Prude called 911 that day, and Daniel Prude was hospitalized for about three hours for a mental health check.
Prude had been visiting from Chicago and returned to his brother's home, where he apparently began acting out again, according to his brother's account. Joe Prude said he again called police, this time resulting in the incident shown in the video.
The videos show when officers found Prude naked in the middle of a street, shortly after 3 a.m. March 23. Prude complied with orders to get on the ground face down and put his hands behind his back, the video shows.
While handcuffed, Prude seemed to be speaking in a nonsensical manner, at one point asking officers for a gun, according to the videos. Police said the officers placed a spit hood on Prude, 41, because he said he had COVID-19.
At one point, it appeared Prude stopped breathing. Paramedics tried to revive him, and he was put on life support at a hospital, but he died seven days later.
Singletary has previously said a state investigation must conclude before he can determine any disciplinary action.
Michael Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing city officers, said Friday that his members had been told for months that they did nothing wrong.
The videos sparked four consecutive nights of protests in Rochester as protesters rallied against the delay in information about Prude's detainment and death. Demonstrators who refused to disperse Saturday night were met with tear gas and pepper balls deployed by police, who said protesters threw bottles, rocks and fireworks at them, according to NBC affiliate WHEC.
Singletary and the mayor both said they had received intelligence that "outside agitators" had come to Rochester to participate in the protests. Singletary said there was "credible information" that those people wished to target "symbolic features," such as the public safety building.
"We have arrested people providing addresses from Alaska to Massachusetts and other parts of the country," Singletary said.
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Authorities have established a plan to bus in "elders" from around the city to stand between protesters and police for Sunday night's demonstrations. The idea came from the Rev. Myra Brown of Spiritus Christi Church.
Brown said Sunday that it is unclear when the protests will end and that it is imperative to ensure the safety of young people who are marching.
"We elders have volunteered to put our bodies on the line to make sure that that happens," Brown said. "Because this community needs to unrestrictedly be able to walk these streets, be able to make the demands that they want to make and to be able to go home without pepper spray or pepper balls in their eyes."
Singletary did not say whether police have been told not to use pepper balls or similar irritants in the presence of elders, instead telling reporters that the department was still in the planning stages for the protest.