(CBS/AP) — An investigation into the official response to Daniel Prude’s police suffocation death last year in Rochester, New York, is faulting the city’s mayor and former police chief for keeping critical details of the case secret for months and lying to the public about what they knew.
The report, commissioned by Rochester’s city council and made public Friday, said Mayor Lovely Warren lied at a September press conference when she said it wasn’t until August that she learned officers had physically restrained Prude during the March 23 encounter.READ MORE: 1 Wounded In Shooting On Interstate 57 Near Markham
Warren was told that day, the report said, and by mid-April she, then-Chief La’Ron Singletary and other officials were aware that Prude had died as a result and that the officers were under criminal investigation.
“In the final analysis, the decision not to publicly disclose these facts rested with Mayor Warren, as the elected Mayor of the City of Rochester,” said the report, written by New York City lawyer Andrew G. Celli Jr. “But Mayor Warren alone is not responsible for the suppression of the circumstances of the Prude Arrest and Mr. Prude’s death.”
Prude, 41, died after being restrained by police during a mental health episode in March 2020. Prude was from Chicago but was visiting family in Rochester at the time.
Earlier this week, attorneys for the five children of Prude have announced a federal lawsuit against the city of Rochester, New York, alleging wrongful death and civil rights violations.
The suit in U.S. District Court, announced Monday, cites the actions of the Rochester police and what it calls an “attempted cover-up” by the department and city government.
In January, New York state Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday that no officers will be charged following an investigation into the death of Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago who died after being restrained by Rochester police last year.
Body cam video shows Rochester officers detaining a naked Prude in the early hours of March 23. Prude was ordered to lie on the ground.
Police put his hands behind his back and handcuffed him.
The video shows Prude yelling and spitting as he lies completely naked on the snow-covered ground. A white spit hood is placed on his head. Later, an officer appears to be pushing his head into the pavement.
Prude goes on to become unresponsive. He was taken to the hospital, where he died days later. His death was ruled a homicide, caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
The video drew protests in Rochester and across the country, along with questions over the handling of the probe by city officials. Seven Rochester police officers were suspended, and the city’s police chief first announced his retirement and was then fired in September. Union officials have insisted police followed their training.
Singletary disclosed that the officers restrained Prude, but “consistently deemphasized” the role of restraints in his death, nor did his statements to Warren and other officials “capture the disturbing tenor of the entire encounter,” the report said.
Singletary’s characterization “likely impacted” how city officials viewed the matter, the report said.
Warren claimed to the public that Singletary initially told her that Prude’s death was a “drug overdose,” but Friday’s report said he never told her that. Singletary, meanwhile, failed to correct Warren’s claim during a September news conference that she was never informed that Prude’s death had been ruled a homicide, the report said. Singletary told her of the finding on April 13, the report said, characterizing his response in September that “the Mayor just said she was not” informed as “untrue statements by omission.”READ MORE: Officer Struck By Car While Directing Traffic In South Loop, 2 In Custody
Messages seeking comment were left with Warren’s spokesperson, who was among the officials scrutinized in the investigation, and a lawyer for Singletary.
Additionally, the report said, a city lawyer in August discouraged Warren from publicly disclosing Prude’s arrest or commencing disciplinary action against the officers after she viewed body-worn camera footage of the encounter for the first time.
The lawyer incorrectly stated that the city was barred from taking action against the officers while the state attorney general’s office was investigating Prude’s death, the report said.
The body-camera video, made public by Prude’s family in early September, shows Prude 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.
A grand jury last month declined to indict the officers involved.
Lawyers for the seven police officers suspended over Prude’s death have said the officers were strictly following their training that night, employing a restraining technique known as “segmenting.” They claimed Prude’s use of PCP, which caused irrational behavior, was “the root cause” of his death.
Rochester’s city council authorized the independent investigation into the handling of Prude’s death within days of the video being made public and voted to give investigators the power to subpoena city departments.
Celli, in the report, noted that the decision to inform the public of a significant event “is a policy judgment, and a political one, not a legal one,” and that there are no written rules or standards in Rochester governing the mayor or other officials in such matters.
“It is not for the Special Council Investigator to pass judgment on whether the decisions by Rochester officials not to disclose the arrest and death of Daniel Prude were right or wrong,” Celli wrote. “The judges of that question are the citizens of the City of Rochester and the public at large.”
The report also confirms that Rochester police commanders urged city officials to hold off on publicly releasing the body camera footage of Prude’s suffocation death because they feared violent blowback if it came out during protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In a June 4 email, Deputy Chief Mark Simmons cited the “current climate” in the city and the nation and advised 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 that led to his death.
“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 blow back in this community as a result.”
“I totally agree,” Singletary replied, according to the emails.
Rochester officials released the emails last fall, along with police reports and other documents. Warren fired Singletary and suspended the city lawyer, Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin and Communications Director Justin Roj without pay for 30 days in response to fallout over the case.MORE NEWS: Hundreds Of Cars Roll Through Downtown To Celebrate Mexican Independence Day
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