What to Know
- Daniel Prude, 41, ran naked through the streets of Rochester and died after a group of police officers put a hood over his head and pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes, according to video and records
- The father of five children had been taken into custody for a mental health evaluation about eight hours before the encounter that led to his death
- His death received no public attention until Wednesday, when his family held a news conference and released police body camera video and written reports they obtained through a public records request
NBC New York found the car that drove through a group of protesters in Times Square amid demonstrations over the death of a man who suffocated after police in Rochester put a “spit hood” over his head earlier this year.
It was not clear how many people were in the black Ford Taurus Friday, but when asked multiple times if they wished to address the incident less than 24 hours earlier, the driver didn't roll down the windows and didn't respond while driving on 42nd Street during the afternoon.
A woman's voice could be heard in the car instructing not to speak with the media.
Video posted on social media shows the sedan careening down West 46th Street, its horn blaring, as demonstrators scrambled out of the way. No one appeared to be seriously injured.
Josh Wood said he was one of the protesters on his bike at the time, and described what he saw.
"As soon as the car stopped, it started moving again. It rammed into my bike once," Wood said. "I took a step back, it rammed me again. At this point it was clear there was nothing I could do, this car wants to run through this crowd anyway."
At one point, social media users who saw the video speculated about whether the vehicle was an unmarked police car because it had a push bar, also commonly known as a bullbar or push bumper, that's found on NYPD vehicles and other SUVs. The NYPD tweeted clearly, "This auto is NOT an NYPD vehicle," and said no complaints had been filed in the incident, hindering the investigation.
Police also said they specifically told the five counter protesters inside the car to turn through the taxi well at the nearby Marriott to avoid the protesters, but the car went straight through the crowd instead. The investigation is ongoing.
A passenger in the vehicle, Juliet Germanotta, said she saw "my life flash in front of me" as she saw protesters gather around the vehicle. She said the driver was a pro-police activist but not part of their group, and offered to drive them away because, she says, “a mob” was trying to attack them.
"The protesters got on 46th Street, blocked us in. Started trying to open the car, hitting the car," Germanotta said. "The driver then drove through to try and get us to safety."
She had posted on her Instagram page a video showing her decked out in Keep America Great gear, saying there was set to be "a peaceful group of protesters coming out here." Germanotta has previously clashed with Black Lives Matter protesters, and has been taken into custody multiple time for dumping paint on the mural outside Trump Tower.
She said that the driver "saved our lives" and that police have interviewed all six people who were in the car, and continue to investigate the incident.
Earlier in the evening, police surrounded a small group of counterprotesters wearing "Keep America Great" hats, and the groups exchanged heated words. One video posted on social media showed police officers fanning out to keep protesters away from Germanotta’s group as they got into the car. The video shows the car traveling down the one-way street toward an area where the demonstration is blocking the street.
Protesters were demonstrating over the death of 41-year-old Daniel Prude, a Black man who died March 30 after he was taken off life support, seven days after the "spit hood" encounter with police in Rochester. He had been taken into custody for a mental health evaluation about eight hours before the confrontation.
His death received no public attention until Wednesday, when his family held a news conference and released police body camera video and written reports they obtained through a public records request.
The New York City protest was one of several across the country Thursday, as Prude's family's news conference the day earlier reignited calls for racial justice. There was also a protest in Rochester, where some violent encounters with police were reported. Several people were arrested there.
Demonstrations continued in the city on Friday, most of which were largely peaceful. One group of protesters, which did not appear to be connected to the group in Times Square from Thursday, quickly moved from areas around Washington Square Park and into Flatiron smashing windows and damaging businesses like a Starbucks, Duane Reade and a bank, according to social media reports.
Family members have described Prude, of Chicago, as a loving father of five who had been traumatized by the recent deaths of his mother and a brother and had gone to Rochester in March to visit his brother, to whom he felt close.
At some point during that visit, he ran naked through the streets and a group of police officers put the hood over his head and pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes, according to video and records. One officer said that the cops put the white spit hood on Prude because he was spitting continuously in the direction of officers and they were concerned about coronavirus.
The hoods are intended to protect officers from a detainee’s saliva and have been scrutinized as a factor in the deaths of several prisoners in the U.S. and other countries in recent years.
The city of Rochester halted its investigation into Prude’s death when state Attorney General Letitia James’ office began its own investigation in April. As outraged mounted Thursday, the mayor of Rochester said seven police officers involved in Prude's death had been suspended. She claimed she was misled for months about the deadly encounter.
In a separate statement Thursday, James said her office is continuing to investigate Prude's death. She added the state had never asked the city of Rochester nor the Rochester Police Department to refrain from launching an internal investigation.
"In fact, we encourage both Rochester and the RPD to proceed with an internal review simultaneous to our investigation," James said. "The Prude family and the greater Rochester community deserve answers, and we will continue to work around the clock to provide them.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also issued a statement regarding Prude's death, saying in part: "For the sake of Mr. Prude's family and the greater Rochester community I am calling for this case to be concluded as expeditiously as possible. For that to occur we need the full and timely cooperation of the Rochester Police Department and I trust it will fully comply."
The Daniel Prude Case
The videos show Prude, who had taken off his clothes, complying when police ask him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back. Prude is agitated and shouting as he sits on the pavement in handcuffs for a few moments as a light snow falls. “Give me your gun, I need it,” he shouts.
Then, they put the hood over his head, and Prude demands they remove it.
Then the officers slam Prude's head into the street. One officer, who is white, holds his head down against the pavement with both hands, saying “calm down” and “stop spitting.” Another officer places a knee on his back.
“Trying to kill me!” Prude says, his voice becoming muffled and anguished under the hood.
“OK, stop. I need it. I need it,” the prone man begs before his shouts turn to whimpers and grunts.
The officers appear to become concerned after he stops moving, falls silent and they notice water coming out of Prude’s mouth.
“My man. You puking?” one says.
One officer notes that he’s been out, naked, in the street for some time. Another remarks, “He feels pretty cold.”
After two minutes, the officers remove remove the hood and his handcuffs and medics can then be seen performing CPR before he is loaded into an ambulance.
A medical examiner concluded that 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. No criminal wrongdoing has yet been determined, however.
The police chief has declined to comment on the cause of death due to two ongoing investigations -- one internal, one by the New York attorney general's office -- as well as a potential lawsuit.
The deadly encounter happened two months before the death of George Floyd in Minnesota prompted nationwide demonstrations. Floyd died when an officer put his knee on his neck for several minutes during an arrest.