Daniel Prude's family gets $12 million in settlement with Rochester over his 2020 death
The city has agreed to pay $12 million to the estate of Daniel Prude, who died after being arrested by Rochester police in March 2020, to settle a lawsuit by the family.
The agreement, announced by Mayor Malik Evans in a prepared statement on Thursday, ends two years of litigation amid a tenuous relationship between city government and the community at large.
"Given the costs of continued litigation, this settlement was the best decision," Evans said. "It would have cost taxpayers even more to litigate, and would have placed a painful toll on our community. It is now time to look forward so we may work together and focus our efforts on Rochester’s future."
Half of the amount is earmarked for "pain and suffering" and half for "wrongful death," according to a copy of the settlement field in federal court. Under the terms of the settlement, $4 million will go toward fees for the attorneys representing the Prude estate.
In settling, the city admitted no liability and did not pay punitive damages.
Prude's arrest on March 23, 2020, and subsequent death a week later, did not become public knowledge until Sept. 2 of that year, when attorneys representing relatives of Prude released video footage of the arrest taken from police body-worn cameras and announced plans to sue the city.
The announcement came on the heels of a tumultuous summer of protests nationwide and in Rochester over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Word of Prude's death, which bore similarities to the Floyd case, immediately touched off protests anew here and around the country.
Prude was naked and acting erratically while on foot on Jefferson Avenue in the early hours of March 23. He was eventually met by Rochester police officers Troy Taladay, Francisco Santiago, and Mark Vaughn, who responded to calls for service.
Officers subsequently restrained Prude using a technique known as “segmenting.” He vomited and lost consciousness and was transported to Strong Memorial Hospital, where he died one week later.
Attorneys for the Prude family argued in their complaint that his death was the culmination of deep systemic issues within the Rochester Police Department. The lawsuit pointed to other instances of proven and alleged police misconduct, including high-profile cases involving Christopher Pate and Benny Warr.
“As a direct and proximate result of defendants’ negligence, gross negligence, and reckless indifference, Daniel Prude suffered severe physical and emotional pain and suffering and was caused to die,” the complaint reads.
Stephen Schwarz, a lawyer with Faraci & Lange who represented the Prude family, called the settlement a “just” outcome.
“This is a recognition by the administration that has taken over the city that this tragedy was avoidable, and that this was something that shouldn’t have happened and something that should never happen again,” Schwarz said.
Prude’s death had a domino effect on the highest levels of the Police Department and led to finger-pointing within the administration of Mayor Lovely Warren over who knew what when.
Within weeks of his death becoming public, former Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and the entirety of the department’s upper brass resigned.
An independent investigation was initiated by the Rochester City Council to determine whether there was a coverup at City Hall. In March 2021, the results of that investigation were released and stated that multiple city officials, including Warren, attempted to keep information about Prude from reaching the public.
“Did officials of city government suppress information about the arrest and death of Daniel Prude between March 23, 2020, when the arrest occurred, and September 2, 2020, when the Prude family publicly released body-worn camera footage of the incident?” the report read. “The straightforward answer is yes.”
The officers involved in the arrest were ultimately found to have done nothing wrong, however.
Attorney General Letitia James announced following an investigation that no charges would be filed against the officers, and a report from her office determined Prude died from “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delirium due to acute phencyclidine intoxication.”
Excited delirium is a controversial medical diagnosis often invoked when people die in police restraints. The state’s medical expert, Gary Vilke, is an emergency medical doctor from California who has a long history arguing on behalf of police officers when people die in custody.
Despite the city not acknowledging any wrongdoing, Schwarz said the settlement could still be a powerful tool for change.
“The city does not have the kind of money to lay it out for this kind of settlement in a repeated fashion,” Schwarz said. “It would behoove everyone to reduce the level of violent incidents where police don’t follow their training."
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