The city of Rochester has agreed to pay an eight-figure settlement to the children of a Black man, who died while in police custody. The mayor said the decision was “best” for the city as it would have cost more tax dollars for the wrongful death suit to go to trial.
On Thursday, Oct. 6, after months of mediation to arrive at a mutually accepted number, two federal judges approved a settlement of $12 million (minus attorney fees and costs) to go to the heirs of Daniel Prude.
City officials, according to the Associated Press, sought to end the civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the man’s five children, after he died in March 2020, noting it is the largest civil rights settlement in the city of Rochester’s history.
Originally, Prude’s sister filed the civil suit, but a judge later ruled they were the estate’s rightful heirs. Of the settlement, $6 million is allotted for “conscious pain and suffering” compensation, with the other $6 million being compensation for monetary damages for the wrongful death of their father.
The city did not pay any punitive damages to the children, who will only receive $8 million after paying lawyers.
On March 23, 2020, a little after 3 a.m., the 41-year-old was stopped by officers from the Rochester Police Department after his brother, Joe Prude, called them and said he needed some mental health support.
The brother stated that earlier in the day, Prude underwent a psychiatric evaluation in a hospital.
Joe said his brother had threatened to hurt himself the day before when he’d already been held at a hospital because of suicidal thoughts. They later released him, but once he was at his brother’s home, he left the property and went running through the street on that snowy night.
Police saw Prude walking naked in the middle of Jefferson Avenue and stopped him.
For 11 minutes, the police and two emergency medical technicians tried to negotiate what to do with the man.
Bodycam video shows officers went to secure the man, and originally he complied with their demands. Officer Mark Vaughn told Prude to get on the ground and he did as instructed, replying “Yes, sir” with each command, then put his hands behind his back to be cuffed. After some time, he became restless. Agitated by sitting on the pavement and being detained, he started spitting at the police.
In an effort to control him, officers put a “spit hood” over his head, before holding him down for approximately two minutes, NPR reported.
Officer Troy Talladay used his knee to pin the man down during the altercation, and Vaughn used his entire body weight to push Prude’s face against the cold asphalt.
During that time, Prude stopped breathing, dying several days later in a hospital, after his family removed him from life support.
Joe believes Prude actually died in the street on the night of the arrest.
“He died there. They just took him to the hospital and put a tube in him,” he said at a news conference Wednesday. “That was cold-blooded murder. … My brother was a loving individual. He was a likable guy and a damn good brother. He made people laugh. He brought joy to people. He didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
He added, “I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched. How did you see him and not directly say, ‘The man is defenseless, buck naked on the ground. He’s cuffed up already. Come on.’ How many more brothers gotta die for society to understand that this needs to stop?”
The cause of death, according to the county medical examiner, was a homicide directly related to “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” Traces of PCP also were found in his system and said to be a contributing factor to his demise.
A grand jury opted not to level criminal charges against the officers involved, siding with their claim that they were following department training when they engaged Prude.
A civil lawsuit filed by Matthew Piers on behalf of the Prude family stated their loved one’s constitutional rights had been violated during his detainment and that the city and police force tried to cover up the murder.
The mayor at the time, Lovely Warren, said she did not even hear about the death until August 2020. Her claims were disputed by La’Ron Singletary, the then Rochester police chief.
The Prude family pointed to a series of emails from June 2020 between city officials and the Rochester police commanders coordinating the time to release the bodycam videos of the circumstances around Prude’s death to the family and to the public.
The police argued that with national fervor around Black Lives Matter, pointing to the civil unrest demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, there might be blowback to their department.
Months later, in September of that year, the family was finally able to see the video and released it to the masses. The video was met with scores of protests and resulted in the firing of Rochester’s police chief and the departure of senior RPD command. Singletary tried to resign but was terminated before the resignation went into effect.
Rochester Mayor Malik D. Evans, who was not in office when Prude was killed, released a statement saying the settlement was “the best decision” for the city.
“Given the costs of continued litigation, this settlement was the best decision. It would have cost taxpayers even more to litigate and would have placed a painful toll on our community,” Evans said.
Piers applauded the decision to settle, adding, “I think that it’s an amount of money that is sufficient to show that the City of Rochester recognizes that something very bad happened and that it’s very important for the city to put it in the rearview mirror and move forward.”
Prude’s son, Nathaniel McFarland said in a statement his father was not a criminal and that his “only crime was needing help.” Now, with the help of their lawyers, they are asking for the New York Legislature to pass “Daniel’s Law.”
Daniel’s Law would arrange for trained mental health professionals to respond to the mental health crisis in communities instead of police officers.
Piers said in a press release, “No purely monetary settlement can truly address the fundamental problem of police violence that underlies this tragic case.”
He continued, “Policing in this country must be reformed to be more humane. This is true especially, but not only, in communities of color that are so frequently harmed by systems that purport to serve and protect them.”