Rochester erupted with protests this week after the Prude family released body camera footage from the arrest of Daniel Prude in March.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has moved to form a grand jury to investigate the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after Rochester police officers used a hood and pinned him to the pavement to restrain him.
"The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish. My office will immediately move to empanel a grand jury as part of our exhaustive investigation into this matter," James said in a statement.
Rochester, a city of 200,000 people in the northwest corner of the state, erupted with protests this week after the Prude family released body camera footage from the arrest of Daniel Prude in March.
The footage showed a group of officers putting a mesh hood over Prude's head - apparently to prevent his spit from possibly transmitting the novel coronavirus - as he kneels naked and restrained on the street.
The video footage also shows officers forcing Prude's face down on the ground. Prude can be heard shouting, "Take this ... off my face!" and "You're trying to kill me!" in response to the hood.
Officers are heard saying "Calm down" and "stop spitting."
He died a week later at the hospital.
Seven police officers were suspended on Thursday over the arrest. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide caused by "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint", with intoxication by the drug PCP, a contributing factor.
Rochester officials have faced questions over why the officers were not disciplined until the videotape became public five months later. On Friday, the Rochester police union chief defended the officers, saying they followed their training in responding to Prude, who was having a psychotic episode.
Earlier this week, I called for the investigation into Daniel Prude's death to be expedited.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) September 5, 2020
Today, I applaud @NewYorkStateAG for taking swift, decisive action in empaneling a grand jury — justice delayed is justice denied and the people of New York deserve the truth.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren both issued statements welcoming the grand jury. A spokeswoman for the Rochester Police Department declined to comment.
"I thank Attorney General James for taking this action because it is a trying time in Rochester," Warren said.
Protesters gathered on Saturday for a fourth night on the street where Prude, naked and handcuffed, was held face-down as snow fell.
Nearly 1,000 demonstrators marched downtown on Friday night.
Stanley Martin, an organiser of Free the People Rochester, told reporters: “We do not need violent workers with guns to respond to mental health crises.”
Activists have marched nightly in the city of 210,000 on Lake Ontario since the police body camera footage of the encounter with Prude were released by his family on Wednesday.
Friday night’s protest resulted in 11 arrests, police said. As they had the night before, officers doused activists at police headquarters with a chemical spray to drive them from barricades around the building.
As the night wore on, demonstrators were pushed further back, as police fired what appeared to be pepper balls.
Fireworks were shot off and a bus stop was set on fire.