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Officers' lawyers raise questions about Daniel Prude’s cause of death

Attorneys for the seven Rochester Police officers involved in the Daniel Prude case said Thursday that all standard operating procedures were followed, including how they pinned him down. 

Rochester Police body camera footage from March shows officers restrained a naked Prude on Jefferson Avenue in 30-degree weather. Officers also put a mesh bag known as a spit sock on Prude’s head.

He lost consciousness and was revived but died a week later. The Medical Examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide and said his cause of death wascomplications of asphyxia (suffocation) in the setting of physical restraint, excited delirium, and acute phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication.

But during a news conference held at the police union's headquarters, attorney Matthew Rich questioned those findings.

“The ME’s statement about the cause of Mr. Prude’s death is a statement of medical opinion. It is not a legal conclusion,” said Rich.

He said the fact that the medical examiner’s report doesn’t find anything remarkable about Prude’s neck, mouth, nose, windpipe or lungs made a suffocation by police officers unlikely.

The lawyers also played a police training video from the New York State Department of Criminal Justice. The video shows a technique called segmenting. In the video, as a man lays face-down, an officer kneels on one side of the man's lower back while another officer uses both hands to press his head down.">

“They correctly deployed the segmenting defensive tactic that they received training in,” said Rich. 

In police reports released by the city of Rochester several weeks ago, Prude’s brother Joe said Daniel was addicted to PCP, a street drug also known as angel dust, and Rich pointed to that as the root cause of Prude’s behavior and death.

“The effects of Mr. Prude’s voluntary use of PCP are the cause of what happened here,” Rich said.

He also argued that two of the suspended officers, whom he represents, had no contact with Prude. He said Officer Andrew Specksgoor was on the scene but never left his patrol car, and Officer Paul Ricotta responded to an attempted robbery on West Main Street that he claims Prude was involved in earlier that night. 

Attorney James Nobles put a spit sock over his head and claimed the bag by itself wouldn't have obstructed Prude’s breathing. He said it's used every day by law enforcement, paramedics, jails and psychological centers.

“You can see through it,” said Nobles. “You can hear through it, you can breathe through it. And I presume that all of you can hear me like you did a moment ago.”

Nobles also said that he and the other attorneys don’t have access to all of Prude’s medical records and said they won’t unless charges are filed. Multiple investigations into Prude’s death and its aftermath are ongoing.

Addressing criticism that officers and emergency medical responders did not give the naked Prude a blanket in below-freezing weather, he said that officers are not issued blankets. He also said EMTs are but chose not to. He claimed Prude's PCP use caused him to suffer from hyperthermia, which raises your body temperature to dangerous levels

“A covering at that time would do more harm than good,” said Nobles. “What we know and what the officers knew about the night in question was that Mr. Prude left the house on Child Street with no socks and shoes, and no coat. He continued to voluntarily disrobe during his time running through the streets of the city of Rochester over the next half of an hour. The worst thing they could have done was give him a blanket.”

Free the People Roc representatives were dubious of the lawyers' remarks. Pastor Myra Brown, who is also a nurse, didn't buy Nobles’ claim about hyperthermia.

“If he was in hyperthermia, they should have been worried about covering his head, like they refrained from covering his body,” said Brown.  "Its just not true, you're not hyperthermic in one part of your body and not hyperthemic in another part of your body."

Organizer Stanley Martin called the officers “white supremacists” and “murderers.”

“They said the worst thing the cops could have did was give him a blanket, completely dismissing the fact that worst thing the cops did was murder a man who was naked in the street and handcuffed," Martin said. "So we’re here today to say, how dare you stand up there and lie when the medical examiner’s report clearly states the reason he died. They put a spit hood on him and we refuse to accept any of these lies.”

Four protesters, including Free the People Roc’s Ashley Gantt and Rochester Board of Education Commissioner Ricardo Adams, 65,  and his wife, Mary, 54,  were arrested on trespassing charges. Also charged with trespassing  was 33 year old Amanda Flannery. All were released with appearance tickets.

A 14-year-old girl was detained at the scene as well, but there is no indication she was charged with anything. Police union spokesperson Danielle Lorenzo said the police were called because the Locust Club is private property and they were not invited to the news conference. 

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.