ROCHESTER, N.Y – New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Saturday she will empanel a grand jury to investigate the death of Daniel Prude after he was restrained by three Rochester police officers and stopped breathing in March.
The announcement marks a significant milestone in the investigation. Having as yet been unable to interview the officers, James has signaled a willingness to move ahead with presenting a criminal case without them.
“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish,” James said in a statement. “My office will immediately move to empanel a grand jury as part of our exhaustive investigation into this matter.”
The state has been investigating Prude’s death since mid-April. But it wasn’t until Wednesday, when Prude’s family came forward with police body-cam video of their loved one’s encounter with Rochester officers that the community and now the entire nation learned what had happened.
The Monroe County medical examiner ruled Prude’s death a homicide, resulting from asphyxiation after being pinned to the pavement while handcuffed, naked and suffering a mental-health episode. Prude’s brother Joseph Prude had called 911 after his brother fled his house in the early-morning hours of March 23.
Rochester police officers involved in the case “have not been made available” to speak to investigators, the attorney general’s office said Saturday. Reasons for that and other holdups in the case are disputed by parties including the union representing Rochester police officers.
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A grand jury is not a means to compel that testimony, as officers would need to be granted immunity to do so.
If the grand jury does not return an indictment, James’ office will be required to issue a report explaining the circumstances surrounding Prude’s death and the outcome of the case. That is according to a 2015 executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo granting the Attorney General’s Office jurisdiction in cases where unarmed civilians die in police confrontations or custody.
The report would also recommend any systemic changes that should be implemented in the wake of the case.
Cuomo issued a statement Saturday evening that read: “Earlier this week, I called for the investigation into Daniel Prude’s death to be expedited. Today, I applaud Attorney General Tish James for taking swift, decisive action in empaneling a grand jury — justice delayed is justice denied and the people of New York deserve the truth.”
Follow Brian Sharp on Twitter @sharproc. Contributing: Jon Campbell