Daniel Prude: New York police used ‘spit hood’ on man who died of asphyxiation
An unarmed black man died in New York state after he was hooded by police and held face down to the road for two minutes, body camera footage shows.
Daniel Prude, 41, who had mental health issues, was restrained in March by police who put a “spit hood” – a device used to stop detainees spitting or biting – on his head.
He later died of asphyxiation but his story has only now been made public.
His death was two months before the killing of George Floyd.
Mr Floyd died after a white policeman knelt on his neck for nearly eight minutes in Minnesota. Anti-racism protests broke out in the US and globally in the wake of his killing.
Tensions have risen again in the US in recent weeks after black man Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back during an arrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on 23 August, sparking violent protests in the city.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called for charges against police involved in Mr Blake’s shooting and that of Breonna Taylor, an African-American woman who was shot eight times by police who entered her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky on 13 March.
“I think we should let the judicial system work its way,” he told a news conference in Delaware. “I do think, at a minimum, they need to be charged, the officers.”
Protesters gathered in the city of Rochester, New York, on Wednesday over Mr Prude’s death. Several people were briefly taken into custody after entering the Public Safety Building, which serves as police headquarters, local media reports say.
US Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday dismissed accusations that black and white Americans were treated differently due to police racism.
In an interview with CNN, he said it was very rare for an unarmed black person to be shot by white officers.
“I think the narrative that the police are in some epidemic of shooting unarmed black men is simply a false narrative,” he said.
How did Daniel Prude die?
In a news conference on Wednesday, Mr Prude’s brother, Joe, said he called police in Rochester on 23 March as his sibling was suffering from acute mental health problems.
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched,” he said.
A warehouse worker from Chicago and father of five, Daniel Prude was visiting his brother at the time of his death.
Police body camera footage obtained by the family through a public records request shows Mr Prude, who had been running naked through the streets in a light snow before police arrived, lying unarmed as officers restrain him on the ground.
The video shows that Mr Prude complied immediately when officers arrived on the scene and ordered him to lie on the ground and put his hands behind his back. He can be heard saying: “Sure thing, sure thing.”
He becomes agitated, at times swearing at the officers who surround him and spitting, but he does not appear to offer any physical resistance, according to the footage.
Mr Prude told officers he was infected with coronavirus, and they placed a white “spit hood” over his head.
One officer is seen pressing down with both hands on Mr Prude’s head and saying: “Stop spitting.”
After he stops writhing and goes quiet, one officer notes: “He feels pretty cold.”
Medics try to revive him before he is carried into an ambulance. He was taken off life support a week later on 30 March.
The family’s lawyer said the reason the case was not made public earlier was that it had taken “months” for police footage to be released.
What are ‘spit hoods’ and why are they controversial?
“Spit hoods” are mesh fabric hoods placed over the heads of suspects. They are intended to protect officers from a detainee’s saliva.
Critics who oppose their use say they are distressing and humiliating, can cause panic in the detained person, and make it harder to notice if a prisoner is having difficulty breathing.
In recent years, they have been scrutinised as a factor in the deaths of several detainees in the US and other countries.
As of February 2019, campaign group Liberty said “spit hoods” were being used by at least 30 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
NGO Amnesty International earlier this year urged police in Northern Ireland to suspend use of the devices during the coronavirus pandemic after “an admission they provide no protection from Covid-19”.
Police forces in the UK who were using “spit hoods” in 2016 told the BBC they only used them when “proportionate, appropriate and justifiable” to protect their officers.
The Metropolitan Police says its medically supervised tests have found “spit hoods” present no risk to a suspect’s breathing.
In a statement, New York state’s attorney general called the death a “tragedy” and said an investigation was under way. The officers involved have not been suspended.
According to a post-mortem examination report seen by the Rochester-based Democrat and Chronicle newspaper, Mr Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint”.
The report also listed PCP, a strong hallucinogenic drug, as a complication.
According to the newspaper, Rochester police used pepper spray and pepper balls against protesters on Wednesday outside the Public Safety Building.