Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren fired Police Chief La’Ron Singletary after newly released documents showed he participated in a cover-up intended to conceal the details of Daniel Prude’s death in the Western New York municipality. Singletary previously denied wrongdoing in relation to the handling of Prude’s death and was set to resign in two weeks.
Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, died after an encounter with Rochester police officers on March 23, during which he was placed in a spit hood and pinned to the ground until he stopped breathing. At the time, Prude was in town from Chicago visiting his brother Joe Prude. Joe Prude called the police when he noticed his brother acting strangely, fearing he was suffering a mental health crisis. He told officers not to kill his brother, who had abruptly left the home on foot around 3 a.m. on a snowy night.
Prude was experiencing an apparent psychotic episode when, minutes after the brother’s call, officers found him walking down the street nude and detained him. The recently released police video evidence shows the distressed man cooperated with officers and allowed them to handcuff him and seat him on the ground, but when he began protesting about the hood put over his head to stop his spitting, three officers used their body weight to pin him to the ground, with one putting pressure on Prude’s head. A doctor pronounced him brain-dead shortly after the encounter, and he was taken off life support several days later.
The New York Times reported that a 323-page internal document contains evidence of the police department’s efforts to keep the details of Prude’s death from being made available to the public.
“We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions and conflate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed Black men by law enforcement nationally,” a deputy Rochester police chief said to Singletary. “That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blowback in this community as a result.”
Sinletary replied: “I totally agree.”
Emails, police reports and internal reviews show officials in the department overstated the idea that Prude was a threat while dismissing tactics used by the officers to detain him.
A police report that originally identified Prude as an “individual” got an editor’s note that said: “Make him a suspect.”
Mayor Warren originally said she would not ask Singletary to resign, saying she believed “the chief is committed to doing what’s necessary to better serve our citizens and our community.”
She placed seven officers who were at the scene the night of Prude’s death on administrative leave pending an investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office.
In early September, Singletary announced his decision to resign alongside other top command staff in the department, saying there had been an attempt to destroy his character and mischaracterize his actions in the days following the Sept. 2 release of the footage of Prude’s encounter with police. Over four months passed between the time that the Prude family’s lawyer requested the footage of the incident to the time he received it.
Although Singletary’s resignation would have become effective in just two weeks, Mayor Warren reversed course on Monday by firing the police chief. The city’s attorney was also suspended for 30 days without pay. She cited the evidence in the 323-page review, and called for federal investigations and city-wide reforms.
“This initial look has shown what so many have suspected, that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department, one that views everything through the eyes of the badge and not the citizens we serve,” Warren said. “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 at every level.”
She said she was previously unaware of the physical struggle that preceded Prude’s death, and only knew that he died of a drug overdose. The medical examiner ruled Prude’s death a homicide, citing the cause of death as asphyxiation complicated by PCP intoxication.
Department officials’ concern over the “blowback” that would result from the release of the video footage appears to have been realized. Protesters have taken to the streets in Rochester every night since footage was made public.