Council wants Warren to fire city’s top lawyer

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Rochester City Council on Thursday called for Mayor Lovely Warren to immediately fire the city’s top lawyer, Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin.

Council has not yet drawn up a formal resolution asking that Curtin be terminated, but it plans to shortly do so, Council president Loretta Scott says.  

Asked to respond to Council’s demand, Warren administration spokesman Justin Roj offered in a statement that “Mr. Curtin has already been seriously reprimanded and suspended without pay for a month.”

In a Thursday afternoon briefing, Council members cited as cause for his dismissal Curtin’s misrepresentations of the city’s and the Rochester Police Department’s ability to release details of Daniel Prude’s death last year at the hands of RPD officers.

Tim Curtin
(Photo: City of Rochester)

Prude, who at the time was naked and high on the hallucinogen PCP, died after police physically restrained him, with one officer holding his head to the pavement and another holding his body down in a technique known as segmentation. 

Prude lost consciousness during the incident and was taken to Strong Memorial Hospital, where he died a week later. The Monroe County medical examiner later ruled Prude’s death a homicide, listing the cause as asphyxiation.

An internal investigation conducted by the Warren administration found no wrongdoing in the administration’s handling the Prude affair. Warren had earlier fired former RPD chief La’Ron Singletary who, she claims, had kept her in the dark for months and had represented Prude to her as having died of a drug overdose. 

Council’s call for Curtin’s firing follows an exhaustive investigation by Andrew Celli, an attorney hired by Council to mount an independent probe of the incident. During the investigation sworn statements were taken from Warren, Curtin, Singletary and other members of the Warren administration.

“A central finding from that special investigation was than Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin consistently obstructed the Prude family and the Rochester community from learning the truth of what happened to Mr. Prude,” Council vice president Willie Lightfoot says. 

Celli found that Curtin had falsely claimed that the city could not release police body worn camera footage documenting the incident, erroneously citing HIPPA regulations and falsely claiming that an investigation by the office of state Attorney General Letitia James tied the city’s hands. 

Warren apparently believed Curtin’s misrepresentations but did not make any attempt to independently verify them, Celli concluded. The mayor most likely knew details of Prude’s encounter with police months before she first admitted to hearing them from Singletary, Celli also found. 

In the Thursday press briefing, Council members also accused Curtin of misrepresenting a court ruling on the city’s still-nascent Police Accountability Board. 

“Since the very drafting of legislation to create the Police Accountability Board, Curtin has taken action to limit the powers of both City Council and the PAB,” Council member Mitch Gruber said.

The PAB has so far been stymied by a state court judge’s ruling in a case brought by the RPD union, the Police Locust Club, which the city has interpreted as keeping it from releasing most information concerning police conduct or at best releasing only limited information to the PAB.

Gruber says that Council is relying on determinations reached by Linda Kingsley, a onetime Rochester corporation counsel who has been looking at the PAB case for Council on a pro bono basis. The PAB is entitled to get information from the city and the RPD and is only restricted in not being able to bring disciplinary action against RPD officers, Kingsley asserts.

“Decisions related to (the PAB lawsuit) are pending from the Appellate Division.” Roj said in a statement.

The PAB said Thursday that New York City-based law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP has agreed to represent the board. Council plans to hire its own attorney, Lightfoot says, creating a new position so that it can get legal guidance independent of the city’s law office. 

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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