In the criminal justice system, most of us have seen the use of “spit hoods” when a suspect or defendant spits at officers or others. During the pandemic, such behavior is viewed as particularly dangerous. However, for years, the hoods have been associated with breathing and medical issues. The death of Daniel Prude in Rochester is spotlighting this controversy after a shocking video of a group of officers laughing as Prude, who was running nude in the area, complained about his breathing. He died on March 30 after being taken off life support.
Prude, who is black, is seen in a videotape sitting naked on the street as officers laugh at the scene on March 30th. One officer is shown pressing Prude’s face into the asphalt. While at points compliant, Prude is also shown shouting and at one point asking for an officer’s gun. He is obviously mentally unstable. He asks for the hood to be removed at one point but officers respond by telling him to “calm down” and “stop spitting.” Prude sounds increasingly in distress and says that the officers are trying to kill him.
Here is another video angle:
A medical examiner concluded that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
As with the death of George Floyd, the officers’ lawyers are likely to point to a finding that lists excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, as listed contributing factors.
However, as I previously noted with the George Floyd case, officers have to anticipate such complications from drug use in conducting arrests and must respond to clear medical emergencies.
In addition to the police abuse allegations in the Prude case, there needs to be greater attention to the use of these hoods and the impact on the breathing of suspects. A spitting suspect is the most likely to have drugs in their systems that might affect breathing. It is not simply the material used in the hoods but the protocols used by police that have to be addressed after this terrible case.