The mayor of Rochester, New York, has relieved the city’s police chief of his duties and suspended the city’s top lawyer following Daniel Prude’s death in police custody. The announcement comes after the city’s deputy mayor conducted an initial managerial review of how city and police officials acted in the aftermath of Prude’s death.
Mayor Lovely Warren said Monday would be Police Chief La’Ron Singletary’s last day with the city’s police department and that two city employees have been suspended without pay: Communications director Justin Roj and the city’s top lawyer Tim Curtin. Singletary had originally planned to retire at the end of the month.
In a summary of his 323-page review, Deputy Mayor James Smith described a “culture of insularity, acceptance and, quite frankly, callousness” in the police department.
Smith wrote that no one from the department told the mayor’s office about Prude’s death until mid-April — eight days after the police union was allegedly informed and permitted to view the body camera footage.
But even when Chief Singletary told Roj about Prude’s death in an April 10 email, he mischaracterized the medical examiner’s findings, Smith wrote. In an email included in the report, Singletary said that the medical examiner found that Prude died due to PCP intoxication, excited delirium and “resisting arrest” — when in fact, the report concluded he’d died from PCP intoxication, excited delirium and “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
The chief did not provide the medical examiner’s report or the bodycam footage, according to the email contained in the report.
“This email is decidedly inconsistent with interactions between previous Chiefs and the Communications Director, and could be seen as less than forthright,” Smith wrote. “It must be asked why Chief Singletary presented Director Roj with such a limited view of the situation.”
The review summary also criticized Roj and Curtin for failing to demand to see the bodycam footage or to notify Mayor Warren of the significance of the case.
Roj was included on only two known email threads about the case, the deputy mayor said. “Nevertheless, it has to be noted that Director Roj missed these opportunities and did not review the [bodycam] footage and notify the Mayor of his findings,” he wrote.
Although Singletary’s April email to Roj said the mayor “has been in the loop” since March 23, it did not specify what that meant. Mayor Warren has said that Singletary initially told her that Prude had died of an overdose, and that she was not aware of the full story until she saw the bodycam footage in early August. The deputy mayor’s review supports that claim.
Roj tweeted a statement accepting the mayor’s decision to suspend him on Monday.
“It was communicated by Chief Singletary in his email that the Mayor and Law Department were already informed,” he wrote. “Therefore, I did not make either aware of what occurred since the Chief stated he fulfilled his responsibility to do so. In hindsight, I agree that I should have questioned the Chief further and/or taken the opportunity to discuss his email with the Mayor.”
Similarly, while Smith credited Curtin with informing the mayor about the footage once he watched it in August, he said Curtin should have acted after he was included on a June email about the bodycam footage.
“To his credit, [Curtin] appears to be the first person to view the video who had an instinctual or visceral reaction to its content — but that reaction came at least two, and arguably five, months too late,” Smith said.
Mayor Warren said the culture of policing in Rochester needs to change and apologized for how carelessly the case has been reviewed.
“This initial look has shown that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department, one that views everything through the eyes of the badge and not the citizens we serve,” Warren added, saying she has apologized to Prude’s family for the city’s failures. “Never again can we allow any man or woman to needlessly die in police custody.”
Mayor Warren also called for a federal review into the Prude investigation and asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to look into any violations of Prude’s civil rights. “This tragic loss of life has shown that we have systematic failures,” she said. “We have to acknowledge these failures and put in place these forms that create transparency.”
Prude’s death was largely unknown until his family released body camera footage of his encounter with police. The footage showed officers confronting a naked Prude, who his family said was having a mental health episode, on a Rochester street on March 23.
The footage, which sparked protests in the city, showed officers handcuffing Prude, putting a spit sock over his face and shoving his face into the ground for more than three minutes. Seven officers involved in the arrest have been suspended.