Rochester Mayor Fires Police Chief Over Daniel Prude’s Death

The mayor of Rochester, N.Y., a city reeling since the disclosure that a Black man died after officers placed him in a hood, lashed out at the Police Department on Monday, saying that it “views everything through the eyes of the badge,” and calling for a federal civil rights investigation into the man’s death and other arrests going back three years.

The mayor, Lovely Warren, abruptly fired the police chief, La’Ron Singletary, two weeks before he was to step down in the wake of the man’s death. The man, Daniel Prude, died in March, days after being handcuffed and restrained by officers.

The mayor said a preliminary investigation into Mr. Prude’s death “has shown what so many have suspected, that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department.”

Ms. Warren also suspended the city’s spokesman and attorney for 30 days. She said blame for the handling of Mr. Prude’s death — which has led to accusations of a cover-up — was spread throughout the city’s halls of power.

“Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who reviewed the case throughout city government at every level,” Ms. Warren said.

She directed the city’s Office of Public Integrity to investigate whether anyone — herself included — “violated city or departmental policies or ethical standards,” according to a statement.

The harsh assessment of the city by its sitting mayor is the latest development in a case that was overlooked for months after the police characterized Mr. Prude’s death as resulting from a drug overdose.

It gained national attention only in recent weeks after Mr. Prude’s family released body camera footage from the officers, which had been obtained through an open records request.

Those videos led to a voluminous report issued by Ms. Warren on Monday, including hundreds of pages of police documents and internal correspondence between city lawyers and the police since Mr. Prude’s detainment on March 23.

The report said that in the weeks that followed, police investigators cleared the officers and said Mr. Prude’s death was caused by a drug overdose, even though an autopsy gave asphyxia as a cause. That account — a fatal drug overdose — would remain attached to the case for months in the police communications with city leaders, the report states.

Chief Singletary did not mention Mr. Prude’s case during more than 50 meetings he had with Ms. Warren between March 23 and Aug. 4, according to the report.

A summary of the report by a deputy mayor, James P. Smith, questioned the officers’ very character.

“None of the officers offered Mr. Prude a blanket or covering, and there is no evidence that this thought occurred to any of them or anyone at RPD who subsequently reviewed videos of the incident,” Mr. Smith wrote.

“The simple concepts of human decency and dignity appeared to be woefully lacking or nonexistent.” He asked: “Is this exceptional behavior or ‘business as usual’ in the Police Department?”

Mark Simmons, a member of Mr. Singletary’s inner circle who was demoted last week, was tapped to serve as interim police chief for the next 30 days, effective immediately, said Jessica Alaimo, a City Hall spokeswoman.

Mr. Simmons most recently served as deputy chief of the department’s administration bureau overseeing training, emergency planning and other duties.

The mayor earlier this month suspended seven officers involved in the encounter.

Mr. Prude’s family said on Monday that the mayor took too long to take action in response to his death.

Mr. Prude, 41, of Chicago, arrived at his brother’s home in Rochester on March 22, but he was behaving so erratically that his brother, Joe Prude, had him hospitalized for evaluation.

He was release soon after, and on March 23, he bolted from the house. His brother said Mr. Prude was high on PCP, also known as angel dust, and officers found him incoherent and naked in the street.

He was handcuffed peacefully, but when he began spitting in the street — as coronavirus cases were taking hold statewide — and ignored orders to stop, an officer fitted a hood over his head, according to footage from the body cameras.

Mr. Prude began to struggle to his feet, and three officers pinned him to the ground, one pushing down heavily on his head. Mr. Prude stopped breathing, and died a week later.

Soon after, an internal police department inquiry found that the officers did nothing wrong. But the state attorney general’s office opened its own investigation, and a grand jury will now examine the case.

The day of the encounter with the police, the chief told Ms. Warren that a person in custody had suffered an overdose, Ms. Warren said. She has said she first learned of the struggle with officers on Aug. 4.

She made no mention of the incident until it became public in recent weeks, but has since grown increasingly critical of the department’s handling of the incident.

“It appears there were major breakdowns,” said Willie Lightfoot, chairman of the City Council’s public safety committee. “We need to continue seeking the truth and hold people accountable and bring justice to the Prude family.”

On Monday, Ms. Warren announced sweeping demands for further investigation and transparency in this case, older ones and those in the future.

She asked that outside agencies review police training in Rochester, for both uniformed officers and others “outside the traditional realm of law enforcement, such as the accreditation standards for mental health professionals.”

She insisted a review of police body camera footage over the last three years “must be made public,” and pledged to publicly announce a criminal investigation into any Rochester police officer. Finally, she announced a process intended to “remove the pervasive culture of insularity” from the police.

Elliot Shields, a lawyer representing the Prude family, said the family, already grieving with the loss of Mr. Prude, waited too long to receive information they requested months ago.

“It is outrageous that the city refused to produce these documents to us and that we are seeing them for the first time today,” Mr. Shields said in an email.

Ms. Warren’s call for the Department of Justice to investigate the events that lead to Mr. Prude’s death “ring hollow and we still have no assurances that she is actually committed to bringing systemic reforms in the RPD,” he added.

The city has seen protests in the street since the videos were released. Melanie Funchess, a mental health advocate and member of the Black Lives Matter movement, praised the steps toward transparency.

“At the end of the day a man died and we need to know what happened,” Ms. Funchess said. “These officers need to be indicted, convicted.”

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