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Prosecutor’s expert told grand jury police did not kill Daniel Prude

Prosecutors overseeing a grand jury investigation into the death of Daniel Prude last year in Rochester, New York, undercut the case for criminal charges with testimony from a medical expert who said three police officers who held Prude to the ground until he stopped breathing didn’t do anything wrong.

Dr. Gary Vilke told the grand jury that Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, died of a heart attack caused by the medical phenomenon known as excited delirium. He said the officers’ actions, which included placing a hood over Prude’s head, had no impact on his breathing, according to transcripts of the proceedings made public Friday.

A medical examiner ruled Prude’s death a homicide due to asphyxiation from a physical restraint, with use of the drug PCP as a factor. There is no universally accepted definition of excited delirium and researchers have said it’s not well understood.

Vilke, a University of California, San Diego professor who routinely testifies on behalf of police, said that restraining Prude during the encounter in the early hours of March 23, 2020, may have been best for his safety given his condition.

Asked by a grand juror if anything could have been done better, Vilke responded: “I wouldn’t do anything differently.”

Examining “Excited Delirium”


The grand jury ultimately rejected criminally negligent homicide charges against the three officers by a 15-5 vote, the transcripts show.

Prosecutors from the state attorney general’s office sought no other charges. They told grand jurors that they could choose not to indict if they believed the use of force was justified. Five jurors indicated they would have voted to indict at least one of the officers.

“You are not an arm of the prosecution and you are to draw no conclusions about, quote, unquote, we think, feel or anything else,” Jennifer Sommers, the deputy chief of Special Investigations, instructed the grand jury, according to the transcripts. “You are an independent body.”

The grand jury’s decision not to indict the officers was announced at the time it was made in February, but the transcripts of nine days of testimony from witnesses — including Prude’s brother, police officers and experts — offer a rare window into a process of accountability normally kept under wraps.

New York Attorney General Letitia James had said, in announcing the grand jury’s decision, that the state had put on the best case it could that the officers should be prosecuted.

Her office defended its use of Vilke as an expert Friday, saying it promised an independent investigation into Prude’s death without a predetermined outcome.

The release of grand jury materials comes at a sensitive time for the issue of race in policing. Testimony is ending in the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd. And on Thursday, body camera video was released that showed a Chicago police officer fatally shoot 13-year-old Adam Toledo last month. 

Prude encountered police hours after he was released from a hospital following a mental health arrest. He ran naked from his brother’s home and was seen bashing store windows. Prude’s brother, Joe, testified that he warned an officer responding to his home, “Don’t kill my brother.”

Man suffocated in Rochester police custody


Prude’s death went largely unnoticed until September, when his family released body camera video of the encounter obtained through a public records request. Emails later made public by the…

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