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Rochester Death Puts Focus on Police 'Spit Hoods'

Officers say they're vital for protection, but critics say they're too dangerous
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 4, 2020 12:29 PM CDT

(Newser) – Not five minutes after police slipped a “spit hood” over Daniel Prude's head, the 41-year-old Black man went limp. A week later, he was taken off life support. Prude's suffocation in Rochester, New York, in March has drawn new attention to the hoods—mesh bags that have been linked to other deaths—and the frequent reliance on police to respond to mental health emergencies, per the AP. His death has underscored one of the top demands of the police reform movement: that certain duties should not be handled by law enforcement but by social workers or mental health experts. Details:

  • In broad strokes: While many in law enforcement defend the hoods as vital to prevent officers from being spit on or bitten—a concern that has taken on new importance during the pandemic—critics have denounced them as dangerous and inhumane.

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  • Criticism: Amnesty International condemned the use of spit hoods Thursday, saying the hoods are particularly dangerous when a person is already in distress, as Prude appeared to be. Police use of spit hoods often “looks like something out of Abu Ghraib,” said Adanté Pointer, an Oakland civil rights lawyer who has handled several cases involving the devices. “They’re often used in a punitive way.”
  • Rationale: University of South Carolina criminal justice professor Geoffrey Alpert said the hoods have reduced the risk of officers and bystanders getting spit on for decades. “Take away COVID, it’s just a nasty thing anyway,” Alpert said.
  • Other deaths: Just three weeks after Prude's deadly encounter, a similar one happened in Tucson, Arizona. Police handcuffed and placed a spit hood on the head of a naked man also in distress. Carlos Ingram Lopez died after gasping for air and pleading for water. In another similar episode, a 45-year-old man died in 2015 after police in Bernalillo, New Mexico, placed him in a spit hood, possibly incorrectly.
  • The dangers: A medical investigator’s report concluded that improperly placed spit hoods have the potential to cause suffocation and that in the New Mexico case, the possibility of asphyxia from use of the hood could not be ruled out. Bernalillo settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the man's family for an undisclosed sum.
(Read more Daniel Prude stories.)

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