Former RPD chief sues Warren, city of Rochester

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Former Rochester Chief of Police La’Ron Singletary has filed a lawsuit targeting Mayor Lovely Warren for allegedly lying about Singletary’s role in the aftermath of the death of Daniel Prude and asking Singletary to lie on the mayor’s behalf.

Filed Sept. 1 in State Supreme Court in Rochester, the lawsuit names the city of Rochester itself as the only other defendant. The filing came one day short of the anniversary of the Prude family’s revelation on the steps of City Hall of when and how Prude died.

Prude died in Strong Memorial Hospital in late March 2020, a week after a 3 a.m. encounter with city police officers that resulted in him transported to Strong Hospital in an unconscious state. He never regained consciousness. The Monroe County medical examiner ruled Prude’s death a homicide by asphyxiation but also noted that blood tests showed Prude had been under the influence of a powerful hallucinogen and had a history of mental problems including paranoia. 

Prude’s death became public only after relatives obtained footage of his arrest and held the press conference. Controversy surrounding the incident immediately sparked calls for Warren and Singletary to resign and lent new fervor to Black Lives Matter demonstrators who had marched in the city for months to protest the May 2020 suffocation death of George Floyd in an encounter with Minneapolis police. 

Prude’s relatives previously named Warren, the city and Singletary as defendants in an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit filed in the federal Western District of New York’s Rochester Division last June. 

As controversy over Prude’s death continued to swirl, Warren fired Singletary last year. She subsequently lost a bid for the Democratic Party nod to seek a third term last June. Her loss in the primary virtually ensures that her challenger in the June race, City Council member Malik Evans, will replace Warren at the end of her term in January. 

In the months following the Prude family’s Sept. 2, 2020, press conference, Warren sought to shift blame from herself to him for what critics saw as a coverup of the circumstances of Prude’s death, Singletary claims in the court brief,

The mayor made “false statements about (Singletary’s) job performance, material omissions about his job performance and (put) ongoing pressure (on Singletary) to support Warren’s false narrative,” Singletary’s court filing contends.

As controversy over Prude’s death mounted, City Council hired New York City attorney Andrew Celli to conduct an exhaustive probe of the city’s handling of the Prude affair. In the investigation, Celli deposed Warren, Singletary, members of Singletary’s RPD command staff and city officials, eliciting many hours of testimony. 

Echoing earlier public statements, Warren claimed to have been kept in the dark on full details of Prude’s death by Singletary for months.

In his deposition, Singletary repeatedly accused Warren of “throwing me under the bus.” 

Among Celli’s observations was that Warren’s claims of having been ignorant of details surrounding Prude’s death until very late in the game were not supported by other parties’ testimony.

The city responded to Singletary’s filing with a statement issued yesterday defending its firing of Singletary and accusing the former police chief of himself admitting to having lied during the Celli investigation. 

“There has been a legacy in the Rochester Police Department of untruthfulness. Mr. Singletary’s testimony to the Special Counsel detailed his own inability to tell the truth, as a simple viewing of his testimony under oath clearly shows. Mr. Singletary failed in his duties as Chief and was rightfully terminated due to those failures,” the statement reads in part.

Claiming that that he was wrongfully fired by the city and alleging that Warren’s version of his conduct in the Prude affair is defamatory, Singletary seeks damages of at least $1.5 million.

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.

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