ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Rochester Police Department “has determined potential grounds for legal recourse” against one officer involved in the March 23, 2020 incident involving Daniel Prude.
Officer Mark Vaughn was charged with Unnecessary and/or Excessive Force, and Discourteous/Unprofessional Conduct Thursday. Those are departmental charges.
Vaughn was the officer seen leaning on Prude’s head and neck area in police body camera video of the encounter. Attorneys for the officers said the “segmenting” technique was performed in accordance with the latest training.
The department said Thursday it “fully supports Officer Vaughn’s right to due process and to defend himself against the charges, of which no pre-determined outcome has been put in place.”
“They’re pressing some vague undefined charge against Officer Vaughn,” said Elliot Shields, an attorney representing the Prude family. “Now if they were going to charge officer Vaughn with the most serious charges and seek his termination, which is what they should be doing, they would have said that.”
“If we were involved in this we would have done a quick, thorough and transparent investigation,” said Rochester Police Accountability Board Executive Director Conor Dwyer Reynolds. “You’d know what charges we were recommending and it would have been done by an independent civilian rather than people within the department so that people could trust that the right charges were being brought.”
No other officers involved in the incident have been charged. A formal hearing for Vaughn has yet to be scheduled.
“Every other officer that was present at this scene had a duty to intervene, and they’re equally liable for Daniel Prude’s death under the law,” Shields said. “Troy Taladay put his full body weight across Daniel Prude’s back while he sat there and breathed his last breath.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren released a written statement Friday, September 24, a day after departmental charges were served, pleading for justice and change.
“Our community has suffered greatly from the tragic death of Daniel Prude,” Warren said. “However, I hope that the work we’ve done creating Person In Crisis Teams, changing RPD policies and procedures, fully funding the PAB and training more police officers in de-escalation techniques ensures that, going forward, we always respond to those in need with compassion and humanity.”
The Rochester Police Department confirmed in July it had completed the internal investigation into the death of Prude. The department said Friday that the report has not been released “on the advice of counsel” due to a pending hearing.
In March 2020, Rochester police responded to the area of Jefferson Avenue Dr. Samuel McCree Way, where Prude was having what New York Attorney General Letitia James would later call “a mental health crisis.” Body camera footage showed officers pinning him to the ground, naked on a freezing night, and putting a mesh spit mask over his head.
Prude lost consciousness, was hospitalized, and died 7 days later. He was 41 years old.
The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Prude’s death a homicide, listing his cause of death as “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report also showed he had a small amount of PCP in his system at the time of his death.
The circumstances of Prude’s death were not made public until September of 2020, six months after it happened. The body camera footage and the delay sparked protests in Rochester and beyond.
Public disagreements between Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and then-Police Chief La’Ron Singletary highlighted the controversies brought up by the official handling of the case. That culminated in a nearly nine-hour deposition in which Singletary disputed the mayor’s claims regarding Prude’s death and the six-month delay between when it happened and when the public was notified.
An independent City Council investigation concluded that key City of Rochester officials “knowingly suppressed” information about Prude’s death, and said the ultimate decision to not disclose the death of Prude to the public was that of Mayor Lovely Warren, but it fell short of saying she was solely responsible.
A grand jury decided not to indict any of the police officers involved in Prude’s death back in February.
The seven Rochester police officers initially suspended with pay in connection to the incident were Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.
The Rochester Police Locust Club responded to Thursday’s development in a tweet, saying “Ask [Interim Police Chief Cynthia] Herriott[-Sullivan] to stand next to us and answer questions. Ask her why she had the results since last April. Ask why she repeatedly said she would make the decision – now it is the conflict attorney’s decision? Ask her why she will lie for a corrupt mayor!”
A statement Friday from the lawyers representing the estate of Daniel Prude:
“Last night the City of Rochester announced that only one Rochester police officer would face disciplinary charges in connection with RPD officers’ violent killing of Daniel Prude.
The lawyers who represent Daniel Prude’s Estate in a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Rochester, state “It is long past time for the City of Rochester to seek accountability from the officers who killed Daniel. As everyone now knows, the City’s initial reaction to the police killing of Daniel Prude was to cover it up. As we allege in our suit, the City of Rochester has long maintained an official policy of covering up even the most egregious acts of police misconduct and failing to discipline officers who inflict violence on the community. This policy must end.
Although several RPD officers were directly involved in the fatal encounter with Mr. Prude, the City is pursuing disciplinary charges against only one of them, Mark Vaughn. The City did not disclose what disciplinary charges it brought against Officer Vaughn. The Estate’s lawyers further state, “We are highly skeptical that real accountability will be achieved through the City’s broken disciplinary system, and that is why we are looking forward to our day in Court.”
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.