Rochester mayor fires police chief, suspends 2 on city staff over Prude case
Investigative report cites a culture of ‘callousness’ among those on force
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.