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Lawsuit accuses Rochester police department of having a 'pervasive problem of racism'

Lawsuit accuses Rochester police department of having a 'pervasive problem of racism'
© WXXI News

A lawsuit filed on Monday accuses the Rochester Police Department (RPD) in New York of having a “pervasive problem of racism” and a culture that encourages violence.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, the class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rochester residents who reported injuries and unjust arrests last year during protests that followed the death of Daniel Prude. 

The suit seeks financial damages, an injunction against racial biased policing and an independent monitor on Rochester's policing practices, according to the Journal. The plaintiffs in the suit pointed to statistics that showed police officers use force more often in communities with higher numbers of Black and Hispanic residents.

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City Communications Director Justin Roj told the Journal that Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren welcomed a review by the Department of Justice that seeks to address civil rights issues.

Prude, who is Black, died in March of last year after an encounter with Rochester police who had been called for when he began experiencing a mental health crisis.

Officers forced Prude onto the ground for several minutes while he was naked and handcuffed, after which he became unresponsive and stopped breathing. He died soon after following an unsuccessful attempt at CPR.

A medical examiner later ruled that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” A grand jury voted in February to not bring charges against the officers involved.

The lawsuit claims that the city attempted to suppress details surrounding Prude's death and that officers responded to the ensuing protests with “extreme and unnecessary force,” pointing to the department's use of tear gas, foam bullets and flash-bang grenades.

The RPD is also accused of having a “sham disciplinary and internal investigation process” in the suit with the plaintiffs alleging officers often falsify documents and make up claims in order to cover up illegal activity, the Journal reports. Instead of disciplining officers who are found to have used excessive force, the department commends them, alleges the suit, citing one officer who was awarded “officer of the year” while suspended during an investigation into alleged use of force.