A class action lawsuit was filed Monday in the Western District of New York accusing the Rochester Police Department (RPD) of racist practices and a “pattern … of using excessive force.”
Plaintiffs include residents of the city of Rochester, New York, who have been subjected to excessive force by the RPD within the last year, most of whom are Black. In addition to RPD and some of its officers, the city of Rochester, its mayor, and other area law enforcement agencies are named as defendants in the complaint.
The death of Daniel Prude, an unarmed mentally ill Black man in RPD custody in March 2020, led to protests in September when body camera footage was released of his death. Footage included Prude–naked, bound, and covered with a “spit hood”–asphyxiated and left to die in the middle of the street by officers. According to the complaint, the RPD’s response to protesters included “the use of extreme violence and militarized police tactics,” which included batons, tear gas, flash-bang grenades, armored vehicles and police dogs. Most of the plaintiffs’ excessive force claims arose from the Daniel Prude protests and were the tipping point in filing the suit.
The plaintiffs allege that the RPD has engaged in a pattern of policing of using force, conducting stops, and engaging in other law enforcement actions disproportionately against people of color. The lawsuit cites a PhD dissertation by Charles LoFaso that analyzed more than 3,000 RPD use-of-force reports between 2011 and 2016. LoFaso concluded that “the frequency and severity of force is higher in neighborhoods with larger percentages of Black and Hispanic residents.” LoFaso’s findings state that 78.3 percent of use-of-force incidents in Rochester occurred to residents in those demographics.
Plaintiffs in the case are seeking a set of reforms in addition to compensatory and punitive damages, including an independent monitor to manage police reforms, additional protections against protesters’ alleged violation of First Amendment-protected protest, and declare previous actions taken by police in the suit as unconstitutional. Plaintiffs have not yet stated specific amounts for damages.