Daniel Prude was born one of five children to a “well-to-do” Christian family in the City of Chicago. He, himself, would putatively come to father five children of his own with various mothers, but he was said to have remained unmarried. His entire adult life, Daniel was characterized as “troubled.” As an adult, he had lived with his sister, Tamashay Prude, in Chicago, until she kicked him out after one of her sons killed himself, and Daniel was said to have suffered “a series of ‘paranoid outbursts.’”
Daniel went to live with his older brother, Joe Prude, in Rochester, NY. But it would appear that little changed. On Sunday, March 22, 2020, Joe was forced to transport his brother, Daniel, to Strong Memorial Hospital (a subsidiary of the University of Rochester Medical Center) for a mental health evaluation, as Daniel was said to have been suffering from “suicidal ideations.”[i] The hospital released Daniel four hours later, ostensibly in the same condition he had entered the facility, “with no medication, no nothing,” according to his brother, Joe.[ii]
A short four hours after his release from the hospital, Daniel would experience his fatal encounter with Rochester police officers who were forced to intervene when Joe, unable to contain his highly agitated and delusional brother, called 911 following his brother’s partially clad, impromptu flight from Joe’s Rochester home. Daniel was encountered completely nude in the street “in the midst of what appeared to be a psychotic episode.”[iii] Because of fears that Daniel was positive for COVID-19 and due to the fact that he was spitting at the officers, a “spit hood” was placed over his head. He was restrained by police who held him down on the ground due to his agitated, physical resistance. Lamentably, as a result of a combination of factors, Daniel did not survive the episode.
According to the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Daniel’s remains, the victim’s manner of death was classified as a “homicide,” and the cause of death was deemed “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraints.” The doctor added, as an aside, that “excited delirium and intoxication by the drug PCP” were contributing factors.[iv] It is important to note that the National Center for Biotechnology Information describes Excited Delirium as a condition characterized by “agitation, aggression, acute distress and sudden death [emphasis added], often in the pre-hospital care setting.” These deaths typically occur in conjunction with drug use and frequently while in police custody after a physical confrontation, where the person demonstrates almost super-human strength in their efforts to resist arrest and increased pain tolerance. Therefore, less-lethal methods employing pain compliance techniques to control the subject typically prove ineffective. I have been a police officer for over 40 years, and I was a homicide investigator for 11 years in Miami-Dade County, FL. I investigated numerous deaths involving what was originally dubbed “cocaine psychosis” and over the years ultimately reclassified as Excited Delirium. I can tell you from personal experience that death is a frequent and common outcome in these scenarios.
In or about 1977, two important things happened: 1) The State of California passed the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, which essentially made involuntary hospitalization of the mentally ill far more arduous in that state, soon becoming a model for others; and 2) President Jimmy Carter launched the President Jimmy Carter Presidential Commission on Mental Health, which examined and advocated for the concept of community-based care, as opposed to long term institutionalized care.
This would turn out to be the acceleration of a trend, which would slowly relegate the guardianship of the most mentally afflicted among us to the care and control of the criminal justice system rather than keeping it where it belongs, in the field of medico-psychology. While elected officials and so-called mental health pundits frequently, very-publicly lament this reality, little has been done over the past several decades to change it. Thinly veiled under the cloak of dignity, the mental health profession continues to allow the chronically insane to fend for themselves in society by euphemistically characterizing it as “community-based care.” They offer the occasional counseling session, a pocket-full of pills, and a hope and a prayer. Then out the door you go. This has largely contributed to the number of homeless people living inside the United States of America today and the overwhelmed criminal justice system, which continues to grapple with those mentally-ill patients who run afoul of the law.[v]
But I ask you, how much dignity is there in living lost and confused on the streets of Americana, dirty, hungry, and forlorn, without a hope, without help? Would it not be better to allow these chronically disadvantaged souls to live in clean institutions, where they can receive food, healthcare, and guidance? No. Instead, we throw them into the streets until, like Daniel Prude, they become the problem of the police, who are the last line of protection when folks like Daniel become uncontrollable, violent, enraged, and an imminent threat to others. And then we blame law enforcement for the consequences that invariably arise from these unfortunate, mismatched confrontations, which frequently end tragically, much like in this case.
By the time police become involved in these situations, the patient has become a bonafide public safety nightmare; police and other first responders are now dealing with a formidable, uninhibited, and out-of-control threat, which if not immediately contained and restrained will undoubtedly harm themselves or others. Police are trained to deal with among other things threats to public safety; they do not have the training or the luxury, at this critical juncture, to vet or even contemplate the underlying motives for this person’s violent behavior; they only have time to stop it and end the threat. And now, with politics rather than the rule of law driving the decisions surrounding police use-of-force, we are quickly massaging a bio-chemical phenomenon known as “Excited Delirium” to allow what is ultimately a tragic mishap to become a prosecutable criminal case against those who we depend on to protect us and maintain the peace. We are scapegoating good, hard-working public servants to expiate the sins of omission by those in leadership who instead choose to cast a blind eye on the real problem.
Given the cost of this cavalier attitude by our elected leaders towards what is a real widespread public safety crisis, which continues to exact an unacceptable toll on our human existence, should we not try to do more than merely offer lip-service? Our elected officials layer legislation with pork, which serves no measurable benefit, while they negate the most vulnerable in our society the real care and attention they so desperately deserve. Daniel Prude was NOT the victim of police brutality; he was the unfortunate consequence of an apathetic government and a medical profession in denial of the truth. Let’s take mental illness out of the realm of the criminal justice administration and put it where it has always rightfully belonged: In the hands of the medical and psychiatric professionals best trained to help them in a constructive, compassionate, dignified manner. We must restore an adequate, comprehensive mental-health infrastructure to meet the increasing need for a resolution to this mounting health and public safety phenomenon.
As God said in Galatians 6:2, Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
[i] Wallace, Danielle. (2020, September 9) Daniel Prude death raises new questions over New York Mental Hygiene Law, 911 calls involving PCP. Fox News. Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com.
[ii] Craig, Gary, et al. (2020, September 4) Strong Memorial Hospital disputes claim it did not give proper care to Daniel Prude. The Democrat & Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.democratandchronicle.com.
[iii] Lampen, Claire. (2021, February 23) What We Know About the Death of Daniel Prude. The Cut. Retrieved from https://www.thecut.com/2021/02.
[iv] Voytko, Lisette. (2020, September 3) Daniel Prude’s Autopsy Report Says ‘Excited Delirium,’ A Controversial Diagnosis, Contributed to His Death. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com.
[v] Schultheis, Heidi. (2018, November 20) Lack of Housing and Mental Health Disabilities Exacerbate One Another. Center for American Progress. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org.