City released emails showing Police chiefs pressed Rochester to keep video of Daniel Prude’s March suffocation death secret
Daniel Prude died after a March 23 encounter where police placed a spit hood over his head as an officer pressed a knee into his back
Newly released emails show Deputy Chief Mark Simmons and others argue against a Prude family lawyer’s public records request for footage
‘We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions… that would simply be a false narrative,’ Simmons wrote
The tangle of cover up and stalling involved Police Chief, La’Ron Singletary, Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin and Communications Director Justin Roj, as well as, four other senior police officers
Police reports had indicated that Prude died of PCP overdose, and mentioned nothing about suffocating the victim until he lost consciousness, slipping into a coma
He never regained consciousness until he was taken off life support seven days later
The footage was eventually released six months later by Prude’s family, on Sept. 4
Mayor Lovely Warren has fired Singletary who she accused of having ‘grossly underplayed’ the circumstances of Prude’s death
Warren appointed Simmons interim police chief
Adding fuel to public perception of the blue wall attempting to shield involved cops from retribution in the police killing of Daniel Prude, is the revelation in newly released emails that Rochester police commanders urged city officials to hold off on publicly releasing body camera footage of the incident.
The brass feared violent blowback if the video came out during nationwide protests over police suffocating George Floyd to death.
Then head of administration for Rochester PD, Deputy Chief Mark Simmons, cited the ‘current climate’ in the city and the nation in a June 4 email advising then-Chief La´Ron Singletary to press the city’s lawyers to deny a Prude family lawyer´s public records request for the footage of the March 23 encounter between Prude and a group of Rochester cops that led to his death.
The video, finally made public by Prude’s family on September 4, shows the 41-year-old man handcuffed and naked with a spit hood over his head as an officer pushes his face against the ground, while another officer presses a knee to his back.
The officers held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. He was taken off life support a week later.
‘We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers´ actions and conflate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationally,’ Simmons wrote.
‘That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blowback in this community as a result.
Warning: Graphic Contents
Disturbing video shows Daniel Prude, a black man suffocate during arrest. The 41-year-old died several days after an encounter with police on March 23.
The city of Rochester released the emails, police reports and other documents on Monday as Mayor Lovely Warren fired police chief, Singletary and suspended Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin and Communications Director Justin Roj without pay for 30 days amid continuing fallout from Prude´s death.
Simmons was named interim chief of the police department.
Simmons’ email seeking to have the city deny the Freedom of Information Law request echoed emails from other police officials worried about releasing video of the March 23 encounter as demonstrators were taking to the streets of Rochester and elsewhere to protest Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis and other police killings of Black people.
Lt. Mike Perkowski told a city lawyer on June 4 that he was ‘very concerned about releasing this prematurely in light of what is going on’ and Capt. Frank Umbrino told another police official ‘any release of information should be in conjunction with and coordinated with the Mayor and the Chief as it very well have some intense ramifications.’
Simmons forwarded both emails to Singletary with his message advising the chief to have the Prude family lawyer’s public records request squashed, according to the documents released Monday.
Simmons suggested that the city deny the request because the case was still under investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
‘I totally agree,’ Singletary replied, according to the emails.
The web continued on June 4, as discussion of the records request continued as city lawyer, Stephanie Prince, told Curtin of a way to buy more time.
The measure would allow the attorney general’s office to show the family the video, as it has done in other cases, but not give them a copy of it.
‘This way, the City is not releasing anything pertaining to the case for at least a month (more like 2), and it will not be publicly available,’ Stephanie Prince wrote.
Distancing herself from the debacle as her city called for her resignation, Mayor Lovely Warren said she ‘should have known’ about the circumstances of Prude’s death and said the incident was ‘downplayed from the very beginning’
Warren claims that she did not see the body camera footage until city lawyers played it for her on Aug. 4 and that police Chief Singletary initially misled her about the circumstances of Daniel Prude’s death.
After seeing the video, Warren emailed Singletary that she was ‘outraged’ at the conduct of the officer who pressed Prude’s head against the ground, Mark Vaughn, and that he should face an immediate disciplinary investigation.
In an unsent draft of that email, Warren excoriated Singletary for having ‘grossly underplayed’ Prude’s death by first describing it to her a drug overdose. In the draft, prepared with Deputy Mayor James Smith’s help, Warren said she strongly believed Vaughn should be fired and that she would have asked for Vaughn’s termination in March, had she seen the footage then.
The mayor had suspended Vaughn and six other officers last week.
‘Quite frankly, I would have expected the Chief of Police to have shown me this video in March,’ Warren wrote in the draft. The toned down version sent to Singletary did not include that criticism.
‘I should have known. Everyone is right. I should have known,’ Warren told WHEC-TV on Tuesday. ‘But this incident – an unfortunate and tragic situation – had been downplayed from the very beginning as a PCP overdose.’
‘It is hard to rationalize how anyone who saw the video of Mr. Prude´s encounter with the RPD did not fully equate these events beyond a few mentions of bad publicity, politics, process or a `false narrative,´ Deputy Mayor Smith writes in his report after a cursory management review that he conducted on the city’s handling of Prude’s death found that stalling the release of the body camera video because of concerns about optics cost did ‘considerable damage’ to work the city has done to improve relations between the police and citizens..
‘Rochester is in desperate need of healing. We lost almost six months of opportunity to begin that process,’ Smith said
The City Council voted Tuesday night to repeal its decision to build a new $16 million police station, WHEC-TV reported.
Singletary announced his retirement from the department last week as part of a major shakeup of the city´s police leadership but had planned to stay on through the end of the month.
Announcing his retirement Sept. 8, the outgoing chief accused critics of trying to ‘destroy my character and integrity.’
Prude’s death has sparked nearly two weeks of nightly protests and calls for Warren´s resignation. His family has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the police department sought to cover up the true nature of Prude´s death.