• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Prude's Death Provokes No Charges

A grand jury convened for the purpose of assessing the culpability of a half-dozen Rochester police officers, a group of seven men by whom the forty-one-year-old Daniel Prude was detained, chided, and possibly killed, has voted against its indictment.

To the consternation of all those clamoring for the urgent need of “police reform”, and to the great outrage of those convinced of a deep-seated racism of which our institutions of power and privilege simply can’t be cleansed, it’s an outcome by which many, already quite exasperated by recent events, will be all the more angered. This is unsurprising. For those, however, upon whom such weighty considerations as truth, evidence, testimony, due process, and the neutral application of the law yet impose a deep and meaningful imprint, it’s a decision to be viewed as painfully difficult, but ultimately right.

Either way, as we learned this week, it’s a decision at which the grand jury in New York has arrived. It did so nearly one year following Prude’s death late last March, a date toward which, for want of an appreciation of the vague circumstances of this case, we must now turn.

Prude was, by any measure, a troubled man. He was, by every account to which the public’s thus far been made privy, psychologically unwell. He was emotionally unstable and psychiatrically ailed, as evidenced by the fact that, but a day prior, he was admitted and then released from a mental ward.

A resident of Chicago, he’d fled one windy city on the bank of a Great Lake for the equally inhospitable clime of another: Rochester. It was there that his brother Joe lived, a sympathetic relation with whom he hoped to spend some time and regain his footing after two years of dismay and imbalance.

A young cousin of his, with whom he was apparently quite intimate, died by an act of self-violence. This happened in the year 2018. Like any suicide that occurs in any family, it was a death with which Prude had great difficulty coping. One might even say it was a death by which, two years hence, his own was precipitated. That, however, might be imposing upon this sad story too poetic a view.

Desperate for relief from his suffering and woe, he began to seek refuge in mind-altering drug, “PCP”.

Colloquially known as “Angel Dust” (for the appearance of the heavenly purity revealed in its white powder), PCP is an extremely dangerous drug. Powerful while it lasts, it offers its user a mighty but temporary assuagement, a brief respite from the troubles from which he’s attempting to flee. A dissociative anesthetic, it causes its user to hallucinate, to become combative, to overheat, and, in many cases, to succumb to the forces of an excited delirium by which death is occasionally provoked.

On that dread night late last March, Prude seems to have experienced the whole list of the terrible symptoms for which PCP is rightfully notorious.

His desperate brother called the police when Prude, unable to be conciliated by fraternal coaxing, ran out into the street unclad. Mind you, he did so when it was nighttime in Rochester, just as a swelling flurry of snow was beginning to coat the ground.

With all promptitude and every good intention, the officers arrived at the scene. As their protocol compelled them, they made as thorough an assessment as possible, as close a glimpse of the situation before which they stood.

Prude, obviously distraught, proved intractable. This much was immediately clear. He was resistant to the officers’ commands and repeatedly threatened them with either physical or biological harm. He demanded that one of the officers relinquish his gun to him, before threatening to infect the officers with COVID. Mind you, back then, this was a disease about which—still so early in the year 2020—few had any real knowledge. It was thought, at that time as well as this, to be inescapably contagious and almost certainly fatal.

To address this risk, and gain control of an unraveling situation, the officers placed a “spit-hood” atop the head of the naked Prude. It was, for the distant viewer comfortably detached from the cold and tension of the scene, an admittedly distressing sight—one by which memories of a lynching were quickly evoked. While the sincerity of those memories can’t be dismissed, the appropriateness of the hood can’t in all good faith be impugned.

Prude was brought to the ground by the collective force of the officers’ weight. Minutes later, it was noticed he’d grown unresponsive. The cursory performance of CPR at the site proved unavailing; he was transported to a local hospital in which he displayed the faint signs of a possible recuperation.

Alas, so miraculous a recovery was not to be. Prude’s heart sustained a beat, but not without external assistance. After a week on life-support, he was pronounced dead. The autopsy report mentions as the causes of his death, “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint” and “excited delirium and acute intoxication by PCP”.

The officers under whose supervision he died, against whom he perhaps imprudently fought, won’t face criminal charges.

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