The lawsuit points to protests surrounding the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who was killed in the midst of a mental health crisis.
A federal lawsuit accuses Rochester city and police officials of facilitating a culture of police brutality and racial discrimination.
Filed on Monday, the lawsuit seeks to represents “hundreds, if not thousands” of people who have allegedly been abused by Rochester police officers over the last three years. The suit further claims that law enforcement used excessive force when attempting to control protests against the death of Daniel Prude.
Prude, an African-American man, lost consciousness while pinned to the ground by Rochester officers; he was naked and having a mental health breakdown.
In the complaint, attorneys describe a “pattern of indifference” towards officer misconduct which can be traced back decades.
“Time and time again, going back decades, the City and RPD have made hollow promises of reform but the culture of violent, racialized policing has not changed,” the lawsuit states.
The suit cites the “millions of dollars” spent by Rochester in the past several years to settle lawsuits related to police brutality and individual officer misconduct.
In two recent complaints—one dating back to 2013, the other to 2016—Rochester paid more than $1 million to settle allegations that its officers brutalized Black men. Despite its settlement, every officer involved in the incidents remains employed by the city police department.
The Democrat & Chronicle observes that some 30 pages of the lawsuit are dedicated to the Prude protests, which took place throughout September.
The protests broke out after the Prude family and their attorney held a press conference at Rochester City Hall. There, they released bodycam footage of officers’ encounter with Prude. The recordings revealed that the “City and RPD had suppressed the body worn camera footage to cover up the RPD’s responsibility for Mr. Prude’s death.”
Within hours, Rochester would resemble a war zone, with the RPD, NYS Troopers, and MCSO officers unleashing flash grenades, tear gas, and thousands of pepper balls on the crowd,” the lawsuit states.
Protesters were purportedly “kettled”—penned into an inescapable area by police—through the use of “heavily armored phalanxes of police using pepper balls, 40mm kinetic bullets, tear gas, and batons to assault diverse groups of protesters outfitted only with umbrellas, cardboard boxes, and plastic children’s sleds against RPD’s military-grade arsenal.”
The mobile “kettle” then escorted protesters from one road towards a bridge, where they encountered more officers and metal barricades.
Upon arriving to the barricades, armored police officers instructed protesters to disperse—though they had nowhere to go. Shortly afterward,, Rochester police began firing more pepper balls, injuring several people. Among them was RIT criminal justice Professor Nicholas Robertson, who suffered permanent scarring after getting hit in the head with a pepper ball.
Attorneys say that none of the officers involved in that incident were disciplined, either.
“Instead, the RPD has maintained a sham internal disciplinary system that consistently and deliberately fails to discipline substantial numbers of officers who are known to have engaged in racist policing and unlawful use of force,” the lawsuit says.
According to the Democrat & Chronicle, the lawsuit observes how, between 2008 and 2013, the Rochester Police Department did not uphold a single excessive force complaint—though, during the same period, officers killed a Black man and assaulted numerous others.
“The RPD sends a clear message to its officers based on the degree of discipline (if any) meted out for excessive force against people of color compared to other internal departmental violations,” the complaint states. “That message is that RPD will tolerate, if not condone, violence against the Black and brown people.”
According to The Associated Press, the lawsuit requests class certification.