New York’s attorney general is taking steps to ensure that there is increased transparency when it comes to releasing body cam footage.
On Sunday, State Attorney General Letitia James announced that her office will begin “proactively” releasing body camera footage anytime an unarmed civilian is killed by police officers effective immediately. Instead of waiting “months and months,” the video will now be released once it is shown to the victims’ family. The decision comes after the suffocation murder of Daniel Prude in Rochester earlier this year. In addition, James also announced this month that a grand jury would be investigating Prude’s death.
“This process has caused confusion, delays and has hampered transparency in a system that should be as open as possible,” she explained, before adding that the policy change was a necessary measure to “avoid the situation that occurred.”
That situation in question is the murder of 41-year-old Prude, who was killed in March after being handcuffed with a spit hood placed over his head. In the disturbing body camera video, Prude is seen lying on the street, naked, with an officer’s knee pressed into his back. He stopped breathing and was taken off life support a week later as a result of the confrontation. Prude’s family has said that he was suffering from mental health and drug issues.
However, the video was withheld from the public until September 4th, despite his family requesting it. Law enforcement urged city officials to deny the family access. Last week, newly released documents showed that Deputy Chief Mark Simmons made an apparent reference to Black Lives Matter protests over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others in early June, acknowledging that there could be “violent blowback” if video of Prude’s death was released in the “current climate.”
“We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions and conflate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationally,” Simmons wrote in an email to Chief La’Ron Singletary, who was fired in early September by Mayor Lovely Warren.
As a result of Prude’s killing, seven police officers were suspended on September 3rd, and the department’s command staff announced their retirements on September 8th.
“It shows that Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who reviewed the case throughout city government and at every level,” Warren said.