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Rochester reaches historic settlement over death of Daniel Prude in police custody

(ROCHESTER, N.Y.) — The city of Rochester, New York, has reached a $12 million settlement with the family of Daniel Prude, who died after he was restrained by police during a mental health emergency, the mayor announced Thursday.

The settlement, believed by the family’s attorneys to be the largest of its kind in Rochester history, will be paid to Prude’s estate and comes more than two years after his death, which sparked calls for police reform.

“Given the costs of continued litigation, this settlement was the best decision. It would have cost taxpayers even more to litigate, and would have placed a painful toll on our community,” Rochester Mayer Malik Evans said in a statement. “It is now time to look forward so we may work together and focus our efforts on Rochester’s future.”

Prude’s son Nathaniel McFarland, the administrator of his father’s estate, sued the city and six Rochester police officers in federal court, alleging wrongful death and civil rights violations. A federal judge approved the terms of the settlement Thursday. Beyond attorney fees, the settlement will go to Prude’s five children, court records show.

“Nothing can ever truly compensate me and my siblings for the killing of our father by the Rochester police,” McFarland said in a statement. “Resolving this case is a step in the right direction. My family needs to heal, and communities need to know that there will be at least some accountability when police kill people like my dad, whose only crime was needing help.”

The case is believed to be the largest civil rights settlement in Rochester history, McFarland’s attorneys said.

“This settlement is a very large monetary recovery for a very serious fatal civil rights violation,” the plaintiff’s counsel, Matthew Piers, said in a statement. “No purely monetary settlement can truly address the fundamental problem of police violence that underlies this tragic case.”

Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, was restrained by Rochester police officers in March 2020 during a mental health emergency. His death a week later, of complications from asphyxia after he was taken off life support, was ruled a homicide by the Monroe County medical examiner.

The incident became widely known six months later, after his family released body-worn camera footage that showed Prude appearing to go unconscious while he is being pinned to the ground with a spit bag on his head. The disturbing footage sparked protests and calls for reforms.

Former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary was fired amid criticism over the handling of Prude’s death, and the seven officers involved in the arrest were suspended.

None of the Rochester Police officers involved in the incident were charged, after a grand jury voted not to indict them.

An independent investigation into the city of Rochester’s response to Prude’s death determined that officials “suppressed” information and the former Rochester mayor lied about what she knew of the arrest during a press briefing.

The delay in the release of the video resulted in the New York Attorney General’s Office implementing a new policy in which body-camera footage will now be released earlier in the investigation process.

Reforms made in Rochester in the wake of Prude’s death included the creation of Person In Crisis teams and changing the city’s Freedom of Information Law and body-worn camera processes.

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