Court officials find space for Daniel Prude grand jury
The space, according to state Supreme Court Justice Craig Doran, will allow for social distancing
ROCHESTER — When state Attorney General Letitia James recently announced that she would convene a grand jury to investigate the death of Daniel Prude, there was one practical problem: Where would the grand jury meet?
There have been space issues at the downtown Hall of Justice because of structural reconfiguring to make the available room suitable for socially distanced grand juries. As well, the Monroe County District Attorney's Office has a backlog of pending grand jury presentations because of the court closures during the early months of the pandemic.
On Thursday, however, state Supreme Court Justice Craig Doran said he has been able to find space that can fit the standard grand jury of 23 people, along with witnesses and prosecutors. And, he said, the space, which he declined to identify, will allow for social distancing.
"I, along with the commissioner of jurors and our court security personnel, have been working through all of these concerns," said Doran, who is the administrative judge for the region's courts and has also been tasked with mapping out how New York courts return to business during the pandemic.
Typically, according to Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, the Hall of Justice is able to accommodate two grand juries but has recently been operating with only one.
"We had to renovate our space," she said. "Because of the way it existed we weren't able to adequately social distance."
The grand jury that is hearing evidence in the allegations of campaign finance violations by the Mayor Lovely Warren campaign was scheduled to convene this week and has done so, according to sources knowledgeable with the case.
The Attorney General's Office intends to convene a grand jury to hear evidence against the police officers involved in the March death of Daniel Prude, who died of asphyxiation after being pinned to the ground by officers as they waited for emergency medical personnel to arrive.
Prude was naked, with a hood placed over his head so he would not spit on police. He died a week after the incident, having lost oxygen to his brain.
With cases like the Prude death, the Attorney General's Office typically convenes its own grand jury instead of using a grand jury brought together by the District Attorney's Office.
Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Sommers, who records show has been involved in the investigation into Prude's death, is now prosecuting former Rensselaer County District Attorney Joel Abelove. He is accused of purposefully shielding evidence from a grand jury that the Attorney General's Office claims could have pointed to a police officer's guilt in the fatal shooting of a Black man.
The trial began Tuesday. Abelove is charged with perjury and official misconduct.
It is unclear whether Sommers or other prosecutors will handle the Daniel Prude grand jury. She is a deputy chief in the state agency’s special investigations and prosecution unit.
Justice Doran said that the grand jury in the Daniel Prude case will be required to abide by the same social distancing and mask-wearing protocols, along with the safety checks for entry into courts, as would anyone else entering courts.
"We will ensure first and foremost that everyone is safe," Doran said.