A cache of documents from the Rochester, N.Y., police department, including emails, police reports and internal reviews, show a coordinated effort on behalf of city officials to keep the death of Daniel Prude out of the public eye.
Prude, a Black man experiencing mental illness, died of suffocation in March after cops responding to a wellness check placed his head in a hood and pinned him to the ground.
According to the New York Times, dozens of internal documents “reveal an array of delay tactics” meant to prevent attention being brought to Prude’s death, and to implicate him in his own killing. These include using hospital privacy laws as a shield to withhold information, “blaming an overworked employee’s backlog in processing videos,” and labeling Prude as a “suspect” on a police report.
From the Times, which quoted this June 4 email exchange between a deputy Rochester police chief and then-top cop La’Ron Singletary:
“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 wrote in an email to his boss. “That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blowback in this community as a result.”
His advice was clear: Don’t release the body camera footage to the Prude family’s lawyer. The police chief replied minutes later: “I totally agree.”
There was also a deliberate effort to portray Prude in a certain light—seemingly, one that could justify his death in the eyes of law enforcement:
In a police report on the confrontation, marking a box for “victim type,” an officer on the scene listed Mr. Prude — who the police believed had broken a store window that night — simply as an “individual.” But another officer circled the word in red and scribbled a note.
“Make him a suspect,” it read.
The revelations come as a result of an internal review released by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren on Monday. She has thus far suspended seven officers involved in Prude’s fatal arrest.
Initial police reports claimed Prude had died from a drug overdose—a claim that his family immediately pushed back against. A New York Times analysis of body camera footage, which released by Prude’s family earlier this month, showed Officer Mark Vaughn getting in a push up position and leaning his weight on Prude’s head, which had been placed in a “spit hood.” Vaughn stayed there for more than a minute, and didn’t release Prude until after he lost consciousness.
Notably, police delayed releasing body cam footage of the arrest out of fear for public backlash. That reluctance only intensified after the high-profile killing of George Floyd in late May. Even though Prude’s family formally asked for all evidence from the arrest to be released to them on April 3, police and city officials managed to drag their feet on releasing the footage until August, when they mailed videos to a family attorney, Elliot Shields.
Protesters who have gathered daily in Rochester to demand justice for Prude have alleged a cover-up from the beginning. Mayor Warren said she wasn’t made aware of important details about officers’ confrontation with Prude, only that he had died as a result of a drug overdose.
As scrutiny intensified around Prude’s death, Chief Singletary announced his resignation on Sep. 8.
“As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character,” he wrote.
But Warren beat him to the punch on Monday, firing him two weeks before he was scheduled to step down from his duties.