A lawsuit brought by civil-rights groups against the city of Rochester accuses its police department of having a “pervasive problem of racism” and fostering a culture of violence and impunity unchecked by city officials, reports the Wall Street Journal. The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed by prominent civil-rights groups on behalf of Rochester residents who reported injuries and unjust arrests last year, in the protests that followed the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man. The suit seeks financial damages, an injunction against racially biased policing and the appointment of an independent monitor to fix the city’s policing practices. The plaintiffs point to city statistics showing that the police use force more frequently, and with more severity, in neighborhoods with larger Black and Hispanic residents, responding to routine events and peaceful protests with “violent, militarized tactics.
At the heart of the complaint is Prude’s death. On March 23, 2020, Rochester Police Department officers responded to reports of a man behaving erratically. They took Prude into custody, covering his head with a hood while he was naked and handcuffed. He died later at the hospital, in what the county medical examiner ruled a homicide, the result of asphyxiation and acute drug intoxication. The lawsuit accuses the city and the department of creating and encouraging a “culture of impunity for violent, racist policing,” saying the department “has for decades turned a blind eye to racist actions by officers.” Between 2001 and 2016, police department leadership supported 16 of the 923 civilian allegations of force against police officers, according to the lawsuit, noting that the harshest penalties were brief suspensions.