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Rochester mayor removes police chief ahead of his retirement

Sep 14, 2020
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The mayor of Rochester, New York, relieved the city’s police chief of his duties Monday ahead of the chief’s retirement this month, citing a preliminary review into the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man with mental health issues who died after having been put in a “spit hood” and restrained by officers in March.

Police Chief La’Ron Singletary was relieved, effective immediately,just a week after he announced plans to retire at the end of the month. Mayor Lovely Warren also said she was suspending two other people, the city attorney and her own communications director, for 30 days without pay.

Warren said during a news conference Monday that she had ordered the internal review into Prude’s death and that the public should have been made aware of his death before September, when his family released body camera video.

“This initial look has shown that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department,” Warren said. “One that views everything through the eyes of the badge, not the citizens we serve. It shows that Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who reviewed the case throughout city government and at every level.”

The city attorney and Warren’s communications director were relieved for “failure to act, inform and follow policy and procedures,” Warren said.

The mayor said that she was asking the U.S. attorney’s office to investigate whether Prude’s civil rights were violated and that she was looking into engaging an outside agency to investigate the conduct and training of the police department.

“This tragic loss of life has shown that we have systematic failures,” Warren said. “We have to acknowledge these failures and put in the reforms that not only create the transparency our public deserves but also allows our city to adequately serve our people.”

The city of Rochester posted a memo summarizing the deputy mayor’s review of the Prude case, as well as 323 pages of supporting documents. The deputy mayor’s review summary alleged a “culture of insularity, acceptance and, quite frankly, callousness that permeates the Rochester Police Department.”

Relatives of Prude, 41, released police videos of the March 23 encounter this month and claimed that they show that officers used excessive force. Prude died of “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” with the drug PCP listed as a contributing factor, according to an autopsy report released by the family from Monroe County Medical Examiner Nadia Granger.

Joe Prude, Prude’s brother, said Daniel had mental health and drug problems and had been acting out on March 22. Joe Prude called 911 that day, and Daniel Prude was hospitalized for about three hours for a mental health check.

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The videos show that officers found Prude naked in the middle of a street shortly after 3 a.m. March 23. Prude complied with orders to get on the ground face down and put his hands behind his back, the video shows.

While handcuffed, Prude seemed to be speaking in a nonsensical manner, at one point asking officers for a gun, according to the videos. Police said the officers placed a spit hood on Prude because he said he had Covid-19.

At one point, it appeared that Prude had stopped breathing. Paramedics tried to revive him, and he was put on life support at a hospital. He died seven days later.

Singletary and two other high-ranking officers announced their retirements last week amid days of protests demanding transparency into the aftermath of Prude’s death. The chief and the mayor have been criticized for having waited months before bringing the circumstances of Prude’s death to the public.

“The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for,” Singletary, 40, said in his resignation letter. “The mischaracterization and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not based on facts, and is not what I stand for.”

It’s unclear whether Singletary will be able to draw on his retirement benefits after being relieved.

Warren previously supported Singletary’s actions during news conferences and in public statements, saying the chief had her full support. She backed up Singletary’s account and said he called her following Prude’s detainment on March 23, but she acknowledged that she wasn’t aware of the autopsy report in April.

“He handled it the way he needed to handle it internally,” Warren said. “So when he made the call to me, it was the information he had at that time, and then he did what he needed to do on the back end.”

The deputy mayor’s memo Monday said there was no written record of Singletary’s informing Warren of Prude’s death until April 10, when the medical examiner ruled it a homicide. The review also claims that Singletary presented Prude’s death to the mayor’s communication director in a false light.

The memo says that Singletary spotlighted the drug intoxication in the medical examiner’s report, despite asphyxiation’s being the main cause of death, and “changes the line about physical restraint to ‘resisting arrest’ – even though the BWC footage clearly shows Mr. Prude NEVER resisted arrest.”

“As noted in Observation 3, this email is decidedly inconsistent with interactions between previous Chiefs and the Communications Director, and could be seen as less than forthright,” the memo says.

Singletary’s email didn’t include a copy of the medical examiner’s report or the body camera video, according to the memo.

Seven officers were suspended, and New York Attorney General Letitia James said she had been empowered by a state grand jury to investigate Prude’s death.

Michael Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing city officers, said his members had been told for months that they did nothing wrong.

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