The police officers involved in the suffocation death of Daniel Prude were following their training when they put a “spit hood” over his head and pinned him to the ground for two minutes before noticing wasn’t breathing, the head of the officers’ union said Friday.
“To me, it looks like they were watching the training in front of them and doing step by step what the training says to do,” said Michael Mazzeo, president of the Locust Club. “If there’s a problem with that, let’s change it.”
The police officers were in a difficult position trying to help someone who appeared to have mental illness, and they didn’t intend to cause Prude harm, he said. The hood, he said, was standard equipment intended to protect officers from germs.
CBS News reached out to the Rochester Police Department about its policy regarding the use of “spit hoods” but did not hear back.
The mayor suspended seven Rochester police officers Thursday, pending completion of an investigation into their roles in the death of Prude, a Black man who had just arrived in the city to visit family.
Prude’s 18-year-old daughter Tashyra, who described her father as “a family man” and a “protector,” told CBS News the suspensions were a “slap in the face.”
“[The suspension] is just a slap in the face, especially with pay,” Tashyra said. “There’s footage of officers murdering an unarmed Black man who was handcuffed with a spit bag over his head, meaning he cannot attack anyone.”
Prude, who was 41, died in March seven days after officers encountered him running naked through the street, handcuffed him, then tried to stop him from spitting by putting a mesh bag called a spit hood, or a spit sock, over his head.
One of the officers then held his face to the pavement while another put a knee into his back until Prude stopped speaking or moving. Waiting medics started CPR when the officers realized Prude wasn’t breathing.
Mayor Lovely Warren announced the suspensions at a news conference Thursday amid outrage that city officials had kept quiet about Prude’s death for months.
While denying a cover-up, Warren acknowledged that Prude “was failed by the police department, our mental health care system, our society, and he was failed by me.”
When asked by CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan whether Prude would have been treated differently if he was white, Warren said: “I do.”
Hours after the officers were suspended, protesters demonstrated late into the night outside police headquarters in the city of 210,000, New York’s third-largest.
Officers doused some protesters with a chemical spray and repeatedly fired an irritant into the crowd to drive activists from metal barricades ringing the building. Protesters protected themselves with umbrellas and dashed for cover but returned and were fired on again.
There were also protests in New York City. Dramatic cellphone video captured a car accelerating into a crowd of protesters in Times Square Thursday night. No one was seriously injured, and police are searching for the driver.
Journalists were among those hit by pellets during the confrontation, which came on the second day of peaceful demonstrations over Prude’s death.
A medical examiner concluded Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report lists excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, as contributing factors.
Police officers “absolutely” need more help in dealing with people who are mentally ill or on drugs, Mazzeo said.
“It wasn’t that long ago when New York state mental health facilities were closed and people were put out on the street, and who was the only other agency who was able to deal with them? The police,” he said. “We definitely need changes and help.”