Jurors in Daniel Prude Case Voted Overwhelmingly in Favor of Police 1

Mr. Prude’s death last year became part of a fraught national conversation around racism and brutality in policing.

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Over the course of 45 hours, the grand jury convened in the case of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after being detained by the police in Rochester, N.Y., last year, heard from more than 30 witnesses — including police officers, medical experts, a tow-truck driver and Mr. Prude’s brother, according to minutes of the proceedings released on Friday.

In the end, the records show, the jury voted overwhelmingly not to charge three officers with criminally negligent homicide in Mr. Prude’s death. Fifteen jurors voted not to indict the officers; five disagreed.

The transcripts provide a rare glimpse inside judicial proceedings that are usually kept secret, and they were made public as national attention is focused on two other cases where officers stand accused of killing Black men in their custody.

Mr. Prude became part of a fraught national conversation around racism and brutality in policing after body camera video of his confrontation with the police was released in September. In the video, released months after his death after city officials tried to conceal it, Mr. Prude is seen naked, wearing a hood officers put over his head and handcuffed, lying facedown on the street.

Seven officers who were on the scene of Mr. Prude’s arrest were later suspended, and the police chief was fired for his involvement in obscuring what had happened. After the footage of Mr. Prude’s death was made public, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, convened a grand jury to review evidence in the case.

The minutes unsealed Friday show that the attorney general’s office asked the grand jury to consider charges against only three of the seven officers; the names of the officers and all other witnesses and jurors are redacted.

According to the grand jury transcripts, one juror asked why the officers — who found Mr. Prude naked on a snowy street, put a mesh bag over his head and pressed him onto the pavement — appeared to move unhurriedly after he lost consciousness. Mr. Prude was taken off life support and died a week later.

Official police reports said that Mr. Prude died of a drug overdose, but an investigation by the Rochester medical examiner determined it was a homicide, with asphyxiation as one cause of death.

Jurors watched body camera footage of an officer holding Mr. Prude’s head to the sidewalk. And they heard one expert testify that the hold, known as “segmenting,” was appropriate.

The transcripts also appear to show jurors grappling with a blizzard of technical information about police tactics, and expert testimonies that appeared at times to conflict. And they illustrate some of the challenges of prosecuting police officers, even as Derek Chauvin, the officer accused of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis two months after Mr. Prude’s death, is currently on trial for murder.

The way they held him, avoiding the respiratory or ventilatory structures, was — was — it would be textbook in my mind,” one expert, identified as a doctor at the University of California, San Diego’s medical center and a professor of clinical emergency medicine whose name was redacted from the transcript, told the jurors.

But a second expert witness, identified as a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, appeared to disagree. “The decision to keep him on his stomach for that period of time was — was unreasonable and against police practice,” the expert said, adding that Mr. Prude should have been rolled over and had the pressure on his back released.

One juror appeared to seek help reconciling the two opinions. “It seemed like one expert had an opinion that there was no improper anything done,” the juror said. “And then, another expert had an opinion that there was some — something that was not quite properly done, am I correct?”

That, lawyers explained, was the jurors’ determination to make.

Don Thompson, a lawyer for Joe Prude, Daniel’s brother, said the minutes, and the jury’s decision not to indict any officers, showed the excessive leeway the police are given when using force in the course of their job.

“I’m infuriated,” he said. “Who other than somebody who wears a special costume for their work gets this kind of deference in a homicide case? No one.”

Mr. Thompson also questioned whether prosecutors had done everything they could to secure indictments against the officers.

“It is all perfectly fine to present that evidence,” he said, referring to testimony that appeared to absolve the officers. “But that is evidence what a defendant presents at trial, it is not standardly evidence that a prosecutor offers to a grand jury.”

Mr. Prude’s confrontation with the police occurred on a frigid night in March of last year, after he bolted out of his brother’s home in Rochester, shoeless and in an erratic state. Joe Prude, concerned for his brother’s safety, called 911 for help.

The police who responded to the emergency call found Mr. Prude naked and shouting that he had the coronavirus. After he was handcuffed, an officer pressed him onto the pavement until he vomited and lost consciousness, an interaction captured on body cameras worn by the police.

Over the course of nine sessions, one juror asked why no one offered to cover Mr. Prude, who was naked, with a blanket. Another asked why it appeared, even after Mr. Prude was unconscious, that the officers and emergency medical technicians at the scene did not swiftly aid him.

“It didn’t seem like anyone was really rushing,” the juror said. “So, no one seemed to be concerned that there was a problem?”

In announcing in February that the grand jury had declined to indict any of the officers, Ms. James expressed disappointment with the decision. Her office took the unusual step of petitioning a Monroe County Court judge to release the transcripts from the grand jury’s investigation, citing public interest.

The attorney general’s office said the investigation into Mr. Prude’s death was the first time that grand jury proceedings in a case of a police-involved death had been made public in New York.

The transcripts do not include the grand jurors’ private deliberations or the actual voting, but they show the jurors raising questions with lawyers from the attorney general’s office. At one point before the jurors voted, they viewed videotaped testimony of one expert witness, the records show.

“I’m disturbed a bit,” one grand juror remarked. “I don’t know if that witness was fully informed.”

Another offered an opinion. “It seems once the police got involved, things went for the worse,” the juror said after hearing about how Mr. Prude was handcuffed and held down. “I’m picturing myself laying on my stomach with my hands behind my back, and you trying to breathe. It can’t be a normal thing to do.”

Lawyers for the officers said the released minutes further exonerated their clients. Daniel Mastrella, a lawyer for Officer Troy Taladay, said he believed his client was one of the three officers targeted by the grand jury investigation. Officer Taladay was one of two officers who voluntarily testified, according to his lawyer.

“He decided that he wanted the grand jury to hear from his own lips what occurred on March 23,” Mr. Mastrella said. “He explained exactly what he did, and I would say we were all very fortunate that incident was recorded on various body-worn cameras.”

Michael Schiano, a lawyer for Officer Francisco Santiago, who was on the scene when Mr. Prude was arrested but did not testify, said no evidence of wrongdoing was presented to the grand jury.

“It’s obvious that the evidence supported the fact that these officers did nothing wrong, and if they could have found an expert to testify the other way they probably would have, but they clearly couldn’t,” Mr. Schiano said.

All of the officers — Sgt. Michael Magri and Officer Josiah Harris, Officer Paul Ricotta, Officer Andrew Specksgoor, Officer Mark Vaughn, Officer Taladay and Officer Santiago — remain suspended from the force, according to a spokeswoman for the Rochester Police Department.

After jurors voted overwhelmingly not to indict the three officers, one juror commended the prosecutors for their work putting together a thorough case, according to the transcript.

“If it wasn’t for everything that you presented to us, I don’t think anybody would have come up with a decision,” the juror, whose vote was not made public, said. “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.”

Benjamin Weiser, Troy Closson and Nicole Hong contributed reporting.