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Lawyers for officers who arrested Daniel Prude say they followed training

The attorneys also say Prude died from a PCP overdose


Michael Schiano, flanked by James Nobles (left) and Matthew Rich, said the officers he and the other attorneys represent are being treated unfairly. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Michael Schiano, flanked by James Nobles (left) and Matthew Rich, said the officers he and the other attorneys represent are being treated unfairly.
Attorneys representing the seven Rochester police officers suspended with pay following their arrest of Daniel Prude said Thursday that Prude died of a drug overdose and that the officers should be immediately reinstated.

The lawyers laid out their arguments, including that the three officers who restrained Prude were following their training, during a news conference at the offices of the police union, the Rochester Police Locust Club. Their presentation appeared to be foreshadowing a defense the attorneys might use in court.

“In this case, these officers are being mistreated, and we believe unfairly,” said Michael Schiano, who represents Officer Francisco Santiago, the officer who restrained Prude by his legs.

The other two officers who restrained Prude were Mark Vaughn, who held down
Prude’s head, and Troy Taladay, who pressed his knee into Prude’s back.

The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office found that Prude died from “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delirium due to acute phencyclidine intoxication,” an indication that Prude was high on PCP.

As the attorneys made their case, activists with Free the People Roc, the organization that has been coordinating protests in response to Prude’s death, gathered in the parking lot and demanded entry to the news conference. Rochester police arrested five of them, including a 14-year-old girl and her parents, Rochester Board of Education Commissioner Ricardo Adams and his wife, Mary Adams, a former school board member. The four adults were charged with trespassing and later released on appearance tickets, according to the RPD.

Two other representatives of the group, Reenah Golden and Breyana Clark, did get into the hour-long briefing on behalf of the radio station WAYO.

Daniel Mastrella, a lawyer representing Taladay, said the three officers who restrained Prude learned the technique they used, known as segmentation, during training sessions in January and February, and passed proficiency exams. The tactic is meant to “restrict the movement of a non-compliant subject using the least force possible,” he added.

To illustrate the hold, the attorneys showed reporters an excerpt from a state Department of Criminal Justice Services training video. In it, one instructor pinned down the head of a mock subject and another instructor placed his knee across the subject’s lower back.

The release of police body camera video of Prude’s arrest in the early morning hours of March 23 on Jefferson Avenue sparked widespread outrage over how the officers treated a man who was in crisis.

Many critics wondered why the officers didn’t leave Prude undisturbed until an ambulance and medics arrived and could sedate and treat him. Others asked why officers didn’t put a blanket on Prude, who was naked when police confronted him, or at least offer him one.

Regarding the latter, attorney James Nobles, who represents Vaughn, said that Prude was in a state of hyperthermia — an unusually high body temperature — which can be brought on by PCP use. Prude didn’t say he was cold and he wasn’t shivering, Nobles claimed.

“The worst thing they could have done was to give him a blanket,” Nobles said. “He was cooking from the inside out.”

Nobles also noted that officers did call for an ambulance, which eventually arrived, and paramedics worked to revive Prude, who had by that point suffocated while in police custody.

Body camera footage shows that Prude complied with officers’ orders to lay on the ground and did not resist being handcuffed. The videos also show that Prude grew increasingly agitated while in handcuffs and hooded with a so-called “spit sock” that officers placed on him to prevent him from spitting at them.

At one point, while seated on the road and in handcuffs, he demanded that officers give him. initially but grew increasingly agitated. It was then that officers moved to restrain him.

“They did everything they could not to put hands on him,” Schiano said.

The attorneys said they would be scrutinizing the medical examiner’s report, which they described as “a medical opinion.”

Free the People Roc organizer Stanley Martin confronts officers in the Rochester Police Locust Club parking lot. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Free the People Roc organizer Stanley Martin confronts officers in the Rochester Police Locust Club parking lot.

After the news conference, Free the People Roc representatives dismissed the attorneys’ explanations as an attempt to smear Prude and questioned the basis of the lawyers’ assertion that he died as a result of PCP use. They said they’d continue to demand that the officers be held accountable for his death.

“How dare you lie and say he died as a result of PCP when the medical examiner’s report clearly states the reason he died,” Free the People Roc organizer Stanley
Martin said from the sidewalk in front of the Locust Club. “He was suffocated.”

Prude’s family is suing the city of Rochester, the Rochester Police Department, and the seven officers involved in the incident over his death. A complaint filed in federal court accuses Santiago, Taladay, and Vaughn of using excessive force by holding Prude down under the full weight of their bodies for more than two minutes until he stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest.

The lawsuit also claims that four other officers who responded to calls about Prude had an opportunity and duty to intervene. Those four officers are Josiah Harris, Andrew Specksgoor, Paul Ricotta, and Sgt. Michael Magri. They are represented by attorney Matthew Rich, who noted that Ricotta wasn’t on the scene and Specksgoor was in a patrol car.

Several simultaneous investigations into Prude’s death are ongoing and the state Attorney General’s Office has empaneled a grand jury to hear the case.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at [email protected].

This story has been updated to include the charges against those arrested outside of the Locust Club.