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AG James: State policies used as an “excuse” to suppress Prude video

New York State Attorney General Letitia James during a trip to Rochester in September, 2020.
James Brown
New York State Attorney General Letitia James during a trip to Rochester in September, 2020.

During a visit to Rochester’s Aenon Baptist Church on Sunday, New York State Attorney General Letitia James said her office will announce when it is investigating deaths of unarmed individuals after encounters with law enforcement. She also said her office will release police body camera footage of these incidents as soon as possible.

“I commit that we will notify the public,” said James, "when we arrive at a decision, to assert our jurisdiction in investigations of police officers involved deaths of unarmed civilians, to avoid the situation that occured here in Rochester.”

Prior to Sunday, the attorney general’s office left both decisions up to individual municipalities. Neither happened for nearly half a year in the case of Daniel Prude. Prude suffocated in police custody in March, dying a few days later. 

James said her office never asked the city to keep the Prude investigation quiet or withhold body camera footage from the family whose attorney requested it in April. Based on emails from the city government published last week, James said that it appears those policies were used to keep the video out of view.

“All of the emails that I have seen so far as a result of the media would suggest that they used our policies and practices as an excuse to suppress the video and that’s unfortunate,” said James. 

James also said her office is also considering a civil rights investigation into Rochester police interactions with protesters over the last few weeks. Police used pepper balls, flash bangs and gas to disperse crowds on several occasions. She expects to collect first hand accounts through an online portal released in the coming days.

“It is important that any videos that individuals have be submitted to our office,” said James. “We are setting up a link so that individuals can submit their documentation, all of the video, all of the documents, all of the video and the testimony and we will review and make a determination.”

James would not say much about the ongoing grand jury investigation in the Prude matter saying that we will know more, “soon and very soon.”

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.