In New York, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has fired the police chief and suspended two city officials due to their handling of Daniel Prude’s death.
CBS News reports that the move comes following an investigation by the city’s deputy mayor into how city officials behaved following Prude’s death. Warren said Monday was Police Chief La’Ron Singletary’s last day with the Rochester Police Department. Additionally, she suspended communications director Justin Roj and the city’s top lawyer, Tim Curtin, without pay. Singletary intended to retire at the end of the month, announcing his resignation following the outrage surrounding the body camera footage of Prude’s death.
In his report, Deputy Mayor James Smith described a “culture of insularity, acceptance and, quite frankly, callousness” that was pervasive in the police department. According to his report, the mayor’s office was not notified of Prude’s death until mid-April, eight days after the police union was allegedly informed and sent the body camera footage.
From CBS News:
But even when Chief Singletary told Roj about Prude’s death in an April 10 email, he mischaracterized the medical examiner’s findings, Smith wrote. In an email included in the report, Singletary said that the medical examiner found that Prude died due to PCP intoxication, excited delirium and “resisting arrest” — when in fact, the report concluded he’d died from PCP intoxication, excited delirium and “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
The chief did not provide the medical examiner’s report or the bodycam footage, according to the email contained in the report.
“This email is decidedly inconsistent with interactions between previous Chiefs and the Communications Director, and could be seen as less than forthright,” Smith wrote. “It must be asked why Chief Singletary presented Director Roj with such a limited view of the situation.”
The report is also critical of Roj and Curtin, finding they didn’t do their due diligence to obtain the body camera footage and they failed to properly inform Mayor Warren once they understood the significance of the case. Smith’s report acknowledges that Roj was only on two email chains related to the case but said, “Director Roj missed these opportunities and did not review the [bodycam] footage and notify the Mayor of his findings.”
In one of the emails Singletary sent to Roj, he stated that the mayor had been “in the loop” since March 23, but didn’t break down what information had been given to her. Warren has previously stated that she was initially told that Prude had died from an overdose and wasn’t aware of the full details surrounding his death until she saw the body camera footage in early August. Smith’s report found that claim to be accurate.
Roj issued a statement on Twitter, accepting his suspension. “It was communicated by Chief Singletary in his email that the Mayor and Law Department were already informed. Therefore, I did not make either aware of what occurred since the Chief stated he fulfilled his responsibility to do so,” Roj wrote. “In hindsight, I agree that I should have questioned the Chief further and/or taken the opportunity to discuss his email with the Mayor.”
The deputy mayor added that while Curtin did inform the mayor of the footage after viewing it in August, he should’ve been more proactive in trying to obtain it after learning of its existence in June. “To his credit, [Curtin] appears to be the first person to view the video who had an instinctual or visceral reaction to its content—but that reaction came at least two, and arguably five, months too late,” Smith wrote.
Mayor Warren has apologized for the way the case has been handled and has said that the culture of the Rochester Police Department needs to change. “This initial look has shown 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. “Never again can we allow any man or woman to needlessly die in police custody.”
Warren believes a federal investigation should be launched into Prude’s death and has called on the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate if Prude’s civil rights were violated.
On March 23, Prude was suffering from a mental health crisis according to his family. When officers responded, Prude was outside and not wearing any clothes. The body camera footage, which spurred protests in the city, showed the officers putting a spit sock over his face and shoving his face into the ground for over three minutes. Seven officers have been suspended as a result of Prude’s death.