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.”
Hundreds of protesters gathered Saturday for the fourth night in a row and marched through the city. Chants of "No justice, no peace" and a call-and-response of "Black Lives Matter" filled the air.
Police eventually declared the demonstration to be an unlawful assembly and ordered the crowd to disperse. There were reports of police using pepper balls and tear gas and multiple accounts were that the police response came after someone lit and possibly threw a firework.
Rochester protest: Sights and sounds from Saturday
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.
Daniel Prude timeline: Black man died after Rochester, NY police restrained him
Rochester mayor: 'Daniel Prude was failed by our police … our society, and by me'
A grand jury is not a means to compel that testimony, as officers would need to be granted immunity to do so.
In a prepared statement, Mayor Lovely Warren thanked James and asked "that the community ... allow the AG’s process to go forth on behalf of the Prude family.”
Separately, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello issued a statement that read: "Daniel Prude’s life mattered and the tragic circumstance surrounding his death has caused enormous pain for our community. We have all been left with too many questions and not enough answers. Attorney General Letitia James’ announcement that she will move to empanel a grand jury is an important first step in getting those answers that Mr. Prude’s family and our community rightfully deserve."
Michael Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the officers' labor union, said via email: "We understand and support New York Attorney General Letitia James' announcement to complete an exhaustive investigation. We believe that an independent Investigation that is conducted by her office in a fair and unbiased way determining and seeking the truth is needed in our community."
Spit hoods: Why are they used by police?
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: Ryan Miller, Jon Campbell
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Daniel Prude death: New York to empanel grand jury