The US police officers involved in the suffocation death of a black man were following their training “step by step”, the officers’ union chief said.
Daniel Prude – who suffered from mental health issues – died after being put in a “spit hood”, designed to protect officers from detainees’ saliva.
The mayor suspended the seven Rochester Police officers involved on Thursday.
Mr Prude, 41, died in March but his death has just recently been reported after body camera video was released.
His death came two months before that of George Floyd, whose killing while in police custody sparked widespread outrage and incited national and international demonstrations against police brutality and racism.
The officers’ suspension this week is the first disciplinary action taken in the wake of Mr Prude’s death. Contract rules mean that the officers will still be paid while on leave, according to city officials.
“To me, it looks like they were watching the training in front of them,” said Michael Mazzaeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club on Friday. “If there’s a problem with that, let’s change it.”
Mr Mazzaeo further defended the officers, saying they were in a difficult position trying to help someone who appeared to have a mental illness, and they did not intend to harm Mr Prude.
The spit hood is standard equipment for officers, he said.
How did Daniel Prude die?
Mr Prude’s brother, Joe, has said he called police on 23 March as Daniel was showing acute mental health problems. When officers arrived, he had been running naked through the streets in a light snow.
Police body camera video obtained by the family shows Mr Prude lying on the ground as officers restrain him. Mr Prude, who was not carrying a weapon, can be seen complying with officers immediately.
While sitting on the road, he becomes agitated, alternately asking for money or a gun.
He spits repeatedly on the ground, but does not appear to offer any physical resistance, according to the footage.
An officer says that Mr Prude told them he has Covid-19, and they place the spit hood on him.
One officer can be seen pressing down on Mr Prude’s head with both hands, saying “stop spitting”. Mr Prude stops moving and goes quiet, and officers note he feels cold.
Paramedics are called and Mr Prude is taken to hospital in an ambulance. His family took him off life support days later on 30 March.
The Monroe County medical examiner ruled Mr Prude’s death a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint”, according to a post-mortem examination.
The autopsy report also cited “excited delirium” and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or the drug PCP, as contributing factors.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office has launched an investigation into Mr Prude’s death and Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for the case to be concluded “as expeditiously as possible”.