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Attorney general says she may review police actions during protests 

click to enlarge New York State Attorney General Letitia James spoke at Aenon Baptist Church in Rochester on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

PHOTO BY JAMES BROWN

New York State Attorney General Letitia James spoke at Aenon Baptist Church in Rochester on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said Sunday that her office will announce when it is investigating deaths of unarmed people in police custody and that her office may expand its review of Daniel Prude's death to include possible civil rights violations by Rochester police in confronting protesters.

“I commit that we will notify the public, when we arrive at a decision, to assert our jurisdiction in investigations of police officers involved deaths of unarmed civilians, to avoid the situation that occurred here in Rochester,” James said.

She spoke during a visit to Rochester’s Aenon Baptist Church on Sunday, adding that her office will release police body camera footage of in-custody deaths as soon as possible.

Prior to Sunday, the Attorney General’s Office left decisions of informing the public of such deaths and releasing police footage up to individual municipalities. Neither happened for nearly half a year in the case of Daniel Prude. Prude suffocated in police custody in March, dying a week later.

James said her office never asked the city to keep the Prude investigation quiet or withhold body camera footage from the family whose attorney requested it in April. Based on emails from the city government published last week, James said that it appears those policies were used to keep the video out of view.

“All of the emails that I have seen so far as a result of the media would suggest that they used our policies and practices as an excuse to suppress the video and that’s unfortunate,” James said.

James also said her office is also considering a civil rights investigation into Rochester police interactions with protesters over the last few weeks. Police used PepperBalls, flash bangs and gas to disperse crowds on several occasions. She expects to collect first hand accounts through an online portal released in the coming days.

“It is important that any videos that individuals have be submitted to our office,” James said. “We are setting up a link so that individuals can submit their documentation, all of the video, all of the documents, all of the video and the testimony and we will review and make a determination.”

A grand jury is considering evidence in the Prude matter. James said the public would know more about its findings "very soon."

James Brown is a reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY. He can be reached at jbrown@wxxi.org.
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