Police and city officials withheld information for months about the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who was placed in a hood and pinned to the ground by cops, documents show.
Graphic body cam footage of Prude, who had been running through the streets of Rochester, New York, went viral and drew a national outcry after it was publicly released Sept. 2, five months after his death.
Prude’s family has accused authorities of a coverup. Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren fired the police chief Monday after an internal investigation concluded that police commanders and city officials didn't take the death seriously enough.
The review cited a “culture of insularity, acceptance and, quite frankly, callousness” within the Rochester Police Department.
Prude, who was detained by police March 23, died a week later. A medical examiner ruled his death a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint" and noted there was PCP in Prude's system.
The police body cam of his encounter with officers wasn't seen publicly for five months. His family's attorney obtained the footage after filing a public records request.
The documents released this week by the mayor contain dozens of emails, internal police reports and reviews that show officials struggling to establish a narrative as police protests against racism and brutality roiled the nation.
“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. “That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blowback in this community as a result.”
Prude, who was experiencing a mental health crisis and had stripped off his clothes during a light snow storm, was initially listed as an "individual" in the original police report. But someone later circled word in red and wrote "make him a suspect."
The mayor has suspended seven officers involved in the incident. Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, who had announced he would retire, was fired Monday by the mayor, who said the documents, contained in a 323-page internal review of Prude's death, influenced her decision to terminate him.
Singletary has not publicly responded to his firing, but in a statement last week in which he declared he would step down, he said the public was misinformed about his actions.
"The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for," Singletary said. "The mischaracterization and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude's death is not based on facts, and is not what I stand for."
Emails between a Rochester police official and a city attorney in June show attempts to delay releasing body cam footage sought by the Prude family's lawyer. In them, the city lawyer notes that a staff member in the state attorney general's office "may be able to assist by allowing the plaintiff's attorney to view the Body Worn Camera footage without releasing it, to buy some more time before we have to release this."
In a statement this week, New York Attorney General Letitia James said: "For weeks, the city and the police department have engaged in a deeply troubling and misleading campaign in an attempt to cover their tracks and shirk accountability, rather than focusing on the real problem at hand. As we have done since April, our office will continue to work tirelessly and without distraction to provide the answers that the Prude family and Rochester community deserve."