NY AG Letitia James announces new policy on body camera footage in Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC)– Attorney General James announced a new policy Sunday, that her office will independently release body camera footage after the family of a victim has seen it, and no longer wait for local authorities to release the footage.

“Up until now the release as been up to the discretion of local authorities, but this process has caused confusion, delays and has hampered transparency in a system that should be as open as possible,” James said. “Starting immediately, the Office of Attorney General will actively be releasing footage to the public on our own. We will no longer wait for local authorities to determine when videos should be made available to the public and we will be doing this with eye towards making the footage available to the public as quickly as possible, publicizing the footage as soon as we have shown it to the deceased family.”

 James was in Rochester Sunday.

“I offered my deepest condolences to Daniel Prude’s loved ones especially, today which would have been his 42nd birthday; it’s also the birthday of his grandfather,” James said. “I also stand in solidarity with the entire Rochester community yearning for positive change.”

The attorney general’s office has been investigating the death of Daniel Prude since April. Sunday’s appearance in Rochester was the attorney general’s first visit to the city since news of Prude’s death became public earlier this month.

“We need a full review about what it is police currently do in a community and reevaluation by the public of what we want them to do especially when it comes in response to a mental health crisis. Poverty and mental illness should not be crimes and they should not be crimes that result in death,” James said.”

The attorney general held a press conference at Aenon Missionary Baptist Church, after meeting with members of the Prude family earlier and is scheduled to meet with local civil rights groups Free the People ROC, and United Christian Leadership Ministry.

“We will take into account applicable security, HIPPA laws and other privacy concerns, but we will move as swiftly as possible so the public no longer has to wait months and months before seeing video in the hands of law enforcement,” James said. “This new policy will help to prevent instances where the public has been kept in the dark for far too long such as what happened in the Prude case.”

The attorney general maintains that her office did not instruct City of Rochester officials to withhold information on the Prude case from the public.

“There are no emails or letters — in fact, the the contrary,” James said. “Ms. Summers had indicated to the police department as well to the administration, the local administration that our policy up until now not to release the video, whether or not they use that as an excuse to suppress the video is anyone’s guess, but I’m confident that Ms. Summers did not intimate or suggest or otherwise indicate to the authorities that they she should suppress the video. All the emails that I’ve seen so far in the media would suggest that they used our policies and practices as an excuse to suppress the video and that’s unfortunate.”

James also announced that her office would have a link on her website where protesters could submit videos, photos, and testimony of police conduct during protests.

“Our civil rights bureau might be considering the events of the interactions between protesters and the Rochester police,” James said. “We have not made a final decision, but similar to our investigation of NYPD’s interactions with protesters in New York City, we might be conducting a similar investigation, including, but not limited to a public hearing like what we did in New York City.”

Additionally, she wants to consider changing the Freedom of Information Act so there are penalties for those who abuse it, which attorneys for Prude’s family says the City of Rochester did in this case.

Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago, died after an encounter with Rochester police back in March, but news of the incident just came to light on September 2.

The autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death of Prude a homicide. The report says Prude’s cause of death includes “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report also showed that Prude also had a small amount of PCP in his system at the time of his death, which could explain his erratic behavior.

A federal civil lawsuit filed from the Prude family against the City of Rochester alleges there was an internal cover-up. Aside from Singletary, several other high-ranking members within the RPD’s command staff have also announced retirements.

Seven Rochester police officers have been suspended with pay in connection to the incident: Officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.

Protests have been ongoing in Rochester since the news broke September 2.

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