The deposition of former Rochester Police Department Chief La’Ron Singletary today promises to be a drawn-out affair.
As questioning of the fired police chief by New York City attorney Andrew Celli stretched into a second hour, Celli largely concentrated on what Singletary told Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren concerning the arrest of Daniel Prude in a pair of March 23, 2020, phone conversations. Police body cam footage from that day showed officers restraining a naked Prude, placing him face down on the pavement with a “spit sock” covering his head. He died on March 30.
Singletary’s answers in the deposition so far have hewed closely to the story he laid out in a notice of claim he filed earlier in state court. In his sworn testimony, the former police chief said he told Warren of his plans to open an internal investigation by the RPD’s Professional Standards Division and to simultaneously begin a review by the department’s Major Crimes Division. Singletary also testified that he informed Warren of plans to involve the Monroe County district attorney, but he did not mention possible review by the state attorney general.
Singletary said he opened those probes because though Prude was still alive at that time, his prognosis was not good. Answering the attorney’s query as to whether he described police as inappropriately laughing and joking during Prude’s arrest, Singletary said he did not. He also testified that at that very early stage, he relied on a preliminary review that found police conduct to be appropriate.
Prude died a week after being taken into police custody and transported to Strong Memorial Hospital. In the weeks that followed, the Monroe County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, but the incident did not become public until a September news conference held by Prude’s family shined a light on it. The family has since signaled its intention to sue the city in a multimillion-dollar wrongful death action.
A Chicago resident who was visiting Rochester relatives, Prude was allegedly under the influence of PCP, a powerful hallucinogen known as angel dust, when his family called 911 for assistance on March 22. Police arrested Prude, and took him to Strong Memorial Hospital, which released him. In the early morning hours of March 23, relatives again called police when Prude ran out of the house.
Police found Prude naked and irrational on Genesee Street. Three officers subdued him by holding a knee to his back, putting his head in a spit sock and holding him down after Prude asked one officer to give him his gun and tried to get up while handcuffed. Prude lost consciousness, was revived and again taken to Strong, where he died a week later.
The Prude case sparked demonstrations locally and drew attention nationally in September when his family released videos of police body cam footage showing the circumstances of Prude’s arrest and held a press conference on the steps of Rochester’s City Hall decrying his death.
In the furor that followed, Warren came under intense criticism but has so far resisted calls to step down over alleged mishandling of Prude’s case. She fired Singeltary after accusing him of hiding details of Prude’s arrest from her. An internal investigation by the city cleared Warren but has not satisfied her critics.
Singletary, meanwhile, signaled his intention to sue Warren and the city, filing an unusually detailed proof of claim in which he alleges that Warren “threw me under the bus” by asking Singletary to lie about what details Warren knew concerning Prude’s arrest and death and when she knew them. Warren’s insistence that he falsely back her version of events would irreparably harm his reputation, Singletary maintains.
Today’s deposition comes as part of an ongoing independent investigation by Rochester City Council of the March incident and its subsequent fallout. Celli of Emery, Celli, Brinkerhoff, Abady, Ward & Maazel LLP is running the probe for City Council.
Singletary is the only one of several witnesses the attorney is publicly questioning. The public testimony comes at Singletary’s request, Celli said this morning.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.