Two elected officials have asked the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to investigate police conduct during the Daniel Prude protests.
Prude suffocated in Rochester Police custody in March and died a week later.
Details about the incident were kept quiet until Prude's family came forward early this month. Police body camera footage shows Prude nude with a bag known as a spit shield on his head. Officers pinned him to the ground.
For nearly two weeks, people have demonstrated about Prude’s death, alleging a coverup. Several protests ended with police calling the protests “unlawful” and using pepper balls and gas to disperse crowds.
Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart was one of thousands who attended demonstrations in recent weeks. Barnhart, who said she suffered a concussion from being hit in the head with a pepper ball, called the force unnecessary.
“In America, you should not have to don helmets, safety goggles, shields to protest your government,” said Barnhart.
Barnhart and City Councilmember Mary Lupien wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking for a probe into basic information about who used which weapons and whether protesters' civil rights have been violated. Rochester Police, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and New York State Police are some of the law enforcement agencies that have responded to the protests. They also sent the letter to U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillbrand as well as Congressman Joe Morelle.
Lupien called the force used by Rochester Police and other law enforcement “disproportionate.” She also expressed concerns with the long-term effects of their use.
“These are chemical weapons that are being used against our people. Our people are not the enemy, and we are not at war,” said Lupien. “The police may be concerned with clearing the streets, but long term, this kind of militaristic response in treating the people like an enemy is sowing long-term division in our community, long-term hatred of the police department.”
Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary told City Council on Thursday that they may use pepper balls and gas to disperse crowds again when they declare a protest “unlawful.”
City Council is holding a listening session on Prude’s death and the reactions to it on Wednesday.
Rochester Police and Mayor Lovely Warren did not immediately respond to a request for comment.