On Sept. 14, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren released a preliminary report outlining the city’s response to the March police killing of Daniel Prude, an unarmed Black man, which has fueled weeks of protests since the video’s release in August 2020. Among a list of upcoming responses, Warren also announced at a press conference that she was immediately relieving Chief La-Ron Singletary of his duties.
Singletary announced his resignation on Sept. 8 but was slated to remain on the force until the end of the month. Warren also suspended corporation counsel Tim Curtin and communications director Justin Roj without pay. Warren also said a preliminary investigation into Prude’s death showed there was a pervasive problem within the police department and the city’s government.
“Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who reviewed the case throughout city government at every level,” Warren said.
Mark Simmons, deputy chief of administration will serve as acting chief of the Rochester Police Department for 30 days. He had served as interim chief before Singletary’s appointment in 2019 but was demoted last week from his lieutenant position in the midst of a slew of firings, demotions and resignations that took place as a result of the uproar surrounding Prude’s death. In a statement, Warren directed the city’s Office of Public Integrity to investigate further into whether anyone — including herself — violated any city policies or ethical standards.
Prior to the uproar, Prude’s death remained overlooked after the department ruled it a result of a drug overdose until Prude’s family obtained body camera footage of the police encounter through an open records request. The disturbing footage shows police pinning a naked Prude down in the street and placing a spit hood over his head. On March 23, Prude was exhibiting a mental illness episode and a PCP trip when his brother called 911 for help. A week after the incident Prude died in the hospital after being taken off life support. Throughout the video, Prude does not appear to resist police. Spit hoods are often placed over suspects’ heads to prevent them from spitting at or biting the police, but the method is now coming under scrutiny for being dangerous and demeaning.
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The 323-page report includes police documents and internal correspondence between city lawyers and the police since Mr. Prude’s detainment on March 23. The report reveals that the investigators ruled his death a result of a drug overdose and the officers involved were cleared of any wrongdoing despite an autopsy report indicating Prude’s death was due to axphyxia. The report also states that Singletary did not mention Prude’s death once in more than 50 meetings he had had with Warren between March and August. The report also points out that the officers also did not have the decency to give Prude a blanket or covering as he was on the street naked on a cold, upstate New York March night.
In a written summary of the report, deputy mayor of Rochester James P. Smith said, “The simple concepts of human decency and dignity appeared to be woefully lacking or nonexistent. Is this exceptional behavior or ‘business as usual’ in the Police Department?”
A grand jury will also now examine the case. At the press conference, Warren also announced sweeping demands for further investigation and transparency in this case. However, these demands are not unique compared to other responses to police brutality in recent years. They include the typical laundry list of hiring outside agencies to review police training, reviewing and releasing body cam footage from the past three years and vowing to initiate criminal investigations into any Rochester police officer.
Elliot Shields, the lawyer representing Prude’s family, told The New York Times that the family has been waiting too long for answers.
“It is outrageous that the city refused to produce these documents to us and that we are seeing them for the first time today,” Mr. Shields told the Times.