Rochester mayor fires po­lice chief, sus­pends 2 on city staff over Prude case

In­ves­tiga­tive re­port cites a cul­ture of ‘cal­lous­ness’ among those on force

The Washington Post - - THE CORONAVIRU­S PANDEMIC - BY TIM CRAIG tim.craig@wash­ Shayna Ja­cobs, Jes­sica Wol­from, Julie Tate and Alice Crites con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Mayor Lovely A. Warren fired the po­lice chief on Mon­day after an in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded that po­lice com­man­ders and city of­fi­cials in Rochester, N.Y., did not take the death of Daniel Prude se­ri­ously enough and en­gaged in con­duct that may have been de­signed to mis­lead the pub­lic.

The 10-page re­port, based on an in­quiry con­ducted by the deputy mayor, pro­vides an in-depth look at why it took more than five months for the pub­lic to see body cam­era footage from the March 23 at­tempt by of­fi­cers to take Prude into cus­tody. The video shows that of­fi­cers placed a hood on Prude, a Black man who was hav­ing a men­tal health crisis, and then pressed his chest into the pave­ment. He died a week later.

The re­port con­cludes that the re­sponse to Prude’s death showed a “cul­ture of in­su­lar­ity, ac­cep­tance and, quite frankly, cal­lous­ness” within the Rochester Po­lice Depart­ment. The of­fi­cers in­volved dis­played a “cava­lier and un­sym­pa­thetic at­ti­tude” to­ward Prude, while depart­ment com­man­ders and in­ves­ti­ga­tors did not se­ri­ously in­ves­ti­gate their con­duct, the re­port states. A po­lice lieu­tenant may have also in­ap­pro­pri­ately sought to in­flu­ence the re­sults of Prude’s au­topsy, the re­port states.

The med­i­cal ex­am­iner ruled on April 16 that Prude died as a result of “com­pli­ca­tions of as­phyxia in the set­ting of phys­i­cal re­straint.” The re­port also said Prude had PCP in his sys­tem.

But when Po­lice Chief La’ron Sin­gle­tary wrote to city com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Justin Roj to in­form him of the au­topsy, the re­port says, the chief “re­verses the or­der and changes the word­ing” to make it ap­pear as if the med­i­cal ex­am­iner iden­ti­fied drug use as the pri­mary fac­tor in the death.

In a state­ment, Warren (D) said the re­port prompted her to im­me­di­ately fire Sin­gle­tary, even though he had an­nounced last week that he planned to re­tire at the end of the month. Warren also sus­pended two top-rank­ing city of­fi­cials. She is call­ing on the Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the death and Rochester po­lice.

“This ini­tial look has shown what so many have sus­pected, that we have a per­va­sive prob­lem in the Rochester Po­lice Depart­ment,” Warren said. “One that views ev­ery­thing through the eyes of the badge and 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 at ev­ery level.”

A po­lice spokesman did not re­spond to a call seek­ing com­ment on the re­port. Sin­gle­tary could not be reached for com­ment. The city said Deputy Po­lice Chief Mark Sim­mons will serve as act­ing chief for the next 30 days.

The re­port main­tains that Warren was not made aware of the body cam­era footage un­til Aug. 4, even though she had met with Sin­gle­tary more than 50 times dur­ing late spring and sum­mer. A deputy po­lice chief also directed a depart­ment em­ployee to send the body cam­era footage to the Lo­cust Club, the po­lice union, on April 2, but “no di­rec­tion was given to in­clude the mayor or any­one in city hall on that email,” the re­port states.

A Lo­cust Club rep­re­sen­ta­tive de­clined to com­ment.

The re­port con­cludes that sev­eral city gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees should have done more to “rec­og­nize the sig­nif­i­cance” of Prude’s death sooner.

Roj and sev­eral city at­tor­neys, in­clud­ing Tim Curtin, the Rochester cor­po­ra­tion coun­sel, were aware that Prude’s death had been ruled a homi­cide in the spring but did not push hard enough to ob­tain the body cam­era footage, the re­port states.

City at­tor­neys also failed to re­spond in a timely way to a pub­lic records re­quest for the footage that was filed by a Prude fam­ily at­tor­ney, the re­port says.

As a result, Warren an­nounced Mon­day that Roj and Curtin have been sus­pended for 30 days with­out pay.

In a state­ment, Roj said he was not aware of what hap­pened to Prude be­fore Aug. 4. Curtin could not be reached for com­ment.

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