Activist groups on Thursday called for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Chief of Police La’Ron Singletary to explain why they kept the March death Daniel Prude at the hands of Rochester police officers under wraps for five and a half months.
The call for greater transparency from the mayor and police chief came one day after Daniel Prude’s brother Joseph publicly revealed the Mar. 23 incident that resulted in the death of his brother.
At the Wednesday press conference, Joseph Prude said he had called 911 to seek assistance after his brother ran from the family’s home in a disturbed state.
Police body cam footage obtained by the family in August showed officers handcuffing a naked Daniel Prude and placing him face down on the pavement while Prude struggled and called out as snow swirled around him. Prude stopped breathing after three officers restrained him while Prude’s head was encased in a “spit hood” police had placed on him after Prude told police he had COVID-19 and threatened to spit on them.
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched,” Joseph Prude said, calling Daniel Prude’s death “cold-blooded murder.”
Calling Warren’s and Singletary’s failure to themselves report Prude’s death when it occurred in March “a coverup,” Community Justice Initiative member Jasmine Holliman said Thursday that Warren “can no longer be trusted.”
United Christian Leadership Ministry president Rev. Lewis Stewart concurred.
“Why is this incident just coming to the light of day?” he asked. “Those in authority talk about accountability and transparency. Why was this incident covered up, why the obfuscation?”
Requests he forwarded to Warren and Singletary asking them to appear at a community forum to explain their silence met with “crickets,” Stewart said.
In statements to the press, Warren and Singletary have maintained that they were barred from revealing Prude’s death—which was ruled a homicide by asphyxiation by the Monroe County medical examiner—while the incident that led to Prude’s death is under investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
In a statement released Thursday, the attorney general said her office “is working diligently to ensure a swift but thorough investigation.” She added: “At this time, we have not asked the city of Rochester nor the Rochester Police Department to refrain from launching an internal investigation. In fact, we encourage both Rochester and the RPD to proceed with an internal review simultaneous to our investigation. The Prude family and the greater Rochester community deserve answers, and we will continue to work around the clock to provide them.”
The mayor and police chief “need to give us clear answers as to why this is just now coming out,” Stewart said. “If this was a police officer who was assaulted … it would have been on the news every day,” he asserted.
Echoing calls from others protesting Prude’s death, Stewart called for the three RPD officers who had held Prude down and a supervising sergeant who “stood by and did not even intervene as Mr. Prude was tortured” to be “immediately fired.”
Seven officers have been suspended with pay, said Warren, who spoke to the community at a news conference Thursday afternoon against the advice of corporation counsel.
“I understand that the (police) union may sue the city for this,” she said. “They shall feel free to do so.”
Asked about the attorney general’s statement, Warren said: “Our understanding yesterday from the assistant attorney general and from conversations that we’ve had … is that they wanted the city to remain out of this until they had finished their investigation. Now today, they are telling us something different. We are hearing that directly from the attorney general. And therefore, we will proceed. And that is why we have suspended these officers and we will proceed with our internal investigation.”
Warren, who said she did not learn of the actual circumstances of Prude’s death until Aug. 4, when she was shown the body cam video by the city’s corporation counsel, noted that she has conveyed her deep professional and personal disappointment in Singletary, “for him failing to fully and accurately inform me about what occurred with Mr. Prude.
“He knows he needs to do better to truly protect and serve our community and I believe he will,” she added. In response to a question about when Singletary became aware of the facts about Prude’s death that have now come to light, she said: “You need to talk to Chief Singletary about what he knew and when he knew it.”
Singletary had informed Warren that Prude experienced and ultimately died from a drug overdose while in police custody in March, an account that she called “entirely different” from what she witnessed in the body cam footage. She has ordered the police chief to provide video related to any in-custody death or use of excessive force, in addition to other directives including regular briefings on the investigation and a plan to address mental health calls.
Community Justice Initiative’s Holliman called for the formation locally of a special mental health unit similar to the Portland Police Department’s Behavioral Health Team in Oregon.
The seven-year-old Portland police unit pairs clinicians with police officers to respond to mental health calls. Five such two-person units are deployed by the Oregon city’s police department. In her remarks Thursday, Warren said she plans to provide resources to pair officers with mental health professionals to provide a more robust response.
“Mr. Prude needed therapeutic intervention,” Stewart concurred. “Instead, what he got was execution.”
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.