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New York grand jury to investigate death of Daniel Prude

“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish," said state Attorney General Letitia James.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said Saturday she has empowered a state grand jury to probe the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man whose head was covered with a spit hood as he was restrained by Rochester police.

The case came to light this week when a lawyer for Prude's family released edited police body camera video of the March 23 encounter. The footage includes audio that indicates Prude, 41, had vomited into the hood as officers were on top of him with at least one placing a knee on his back and another pushing his head down.

The lawyer provided 11 minutes of video to the media before giving NBC News nearly 90 minutes of footage.

Michael Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing city officers, said Friday that it appeared the officers were doing what they were trained to do.

“To me, It looks like they were watching the training in front of them and following it step-by-step, what that training says to do," he said.

James, whose office began investigating Prude's death in mid-July, indicated in a statement that using a grand jury was a faster way to get to the truth.

“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish," she said. "My office will immediately move to empanel a grand jury as part of our exhaustive investigation into this matter."

Rochester Mayor Mayor Lovely Warren said in a statement that she welcomes a grand jury examination.

"I thank Attorney General James for taking this action because it is a trying time in Rochester," she said. "I ask that the community to allow the AG’s process to go forth on behalf of the Prude family.”

The Rochester Police Department and the police union did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the upcoming grand jury investigation.

Prude's brother, Joe Prude, said on the police video and told NBC News that his brother 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.

When Daniel Prude returned to his brother's home—he had been visiting from Chicago—he started acting out again, and Joe Prude said he called authorities for help once more.

Image: Daniel Prude
Joe Prude, brother of Daniel Prude, right, and his son Armin, stand with a picture of Daniel Prude in Rochester, N.Y., on Sept. 3, 2020.Ted Shaffrey / AP

The video shows when officers found Daniel Prude nude in the middle of a street, shortly after 3 a.m. on March 23. Daniel Prude complied with orders to get on the ground face-down and put his hands behind his back, the video shows.

But after he was handcuffed, Daniel Prude started talking gibberish and asking officers for a gun, it shows. Rochester police said they put a spit hood on him because he told them he had COVID-19.

At one point, it appeared Daniel Prude stopped breathing, and paramedics tried to revive him. He was put on life support at a hospital but died seven days later.

Monroe County Medical Examiner Nadia Granger said in an autopsy report provided by the family's lawyer that Daniel Prude died from "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint."

She cited the effects of street drug PCP as a contributing factor.

On Friday, Warren suspended with pay seven officers she said were involved in the encounter with Daniel Prude.