ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — Two protesters accused of attacking police officers during a demonstration over the suffocation death of Daniel Prude face federal civil disorder charges, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Adam Green and Dallas Williams-Smothers, both 20, were charged with obstructing and impeding law enforcement during a civil disorder. Green, of Dansville, New York, struck an officer in the head Saturday night with a makeshift wooden shield after the crowd was told to disperse, while Dallas Williams-Smothers, of Rochester, threw a “mortar-style, commercial grade” firework at a line of police officers that same night, according to U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy.
“These arrests are not about deterring free speech, they’re about deterring violent and dangerous criminal activity,” Kennedy said at a news conference.
It could not immediately be determined if Green and Williams-Smothers had lawyers. Kennedy said they were appearing in federal court Wednesday afternoon.
The charges were the latest example of U.S. authorities stepping in to file serious federal charges against protesters accused of the type of minor assaults and vandalism that would ordinarily be handled by local prosecutors. President Donald Trump has vowed to use federal powers to crack down on unrest.
Demonstrations have been held nightly in Rochester since videos were released last week of police restraining Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, on the street in the early morning hours of March 23. Prude died March 30 after being taken off of life support.
At a rally Saturday night, protesters and some elected officials reported officers fired pepper balls at close range, hitting people. Police said in a press statement that officers started firing pepper balls only after a protester set off a firework.
Kennedy said conviction on the charge can lead to up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and three other leaders of the force suddenly announced Tuesday that they were retiring. Three others gave up top leadership positions and returned to lower ranks.
Kennedy praised Singletary and his command staff at the news conference announcing the arrests and said he was “heartbroken to see them go.”
“In my mind, the actions of the command staff yesterday should serve as wake-up call to some in our community,” Kennedy said. “Your contempt, your hate and … your demonization of those who protect us, the police, is remarkably dangerous.”
Seven police officers were suspended Thursday, and state Attorney General Letitia James said Saturday she would form a grand jury and conduct an “exhaustive investigation” into Prude’s death.
Also Wednesday, the head of Rochester’s police union repeated his call for Mayor Lovely Warren to resign in the wake of Prude’s death. He said she has been “less than truthful” about how the city and police department handled the case and has lost the confidence of officers and the public.
“I think it’s clear to all who have seen the events of the last few days that there’s a need for change,” Rochester Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo said at a news conference. “I think when we have a whole command staff walk out the door, I think something’s wrong. I think too many people are involved in this that know the truth and for some of them that haven’t figured out the truth, I hope they learn soon.”