Daniel Prude’s death 1 year later: What’s changed, what hasn’t in Rochester

Daniel Prude

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — It’s been exactly one year since the Rochester community learned about the details of Daniel Prude’s death.

The events that followed led to violent clashes between police and protesters, turnover at city hall and City Council, a shake-up of the city’s police department, multiple investigations, and more.

Meanwhile, the officers involved were not charged by a grand jury but are still suspended, unsettled lawsuits remain, the police internal investigation findings have not been released to the public, and the Prude family is still demanding justice.

At a press conference Thursday outside Rochester’s Public Safety Building, Daniel Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, expressed frustration over what has and hasn’t happened over the past year — specifically calling out the officers involved in his brothers death.

“They ain’t been charged,” Joe Prude said. “Why haven’t they been charged? Why aren’t these people doing their damn job? And they’re still walking around getting a paycheck. While my family isn’t getting nothing but damn pain. Attorney General James did what? Nothing. District Attorney Doorley did what? Nothing. The pain and agony my family is feeling right now … the whole world knows it’s wrong.”

Thursday press conference

How we got here

It was September 2, 2020 when police worn body camera footage surfaced from six months prior. The video from March of that year showed a Black man’s encounter with Rochester police.

On March 2020, Rochester police responded to the area of Jefferson Avenue Dr. Samuel McCree Way, where Prude was having what New York Attorney General Letitia James would later call “a mental health crisis.” Body camera footage showed officers pinning him to the ground, naked on a freezing night, and putting a mesh spit mask over his head.

Prude lost consciousness, was hospitalized, and died 7 days later. He was 41 years old.

The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Prude’s death a homicide, listing his cause of death as “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report also showed he had a small amount of PCP in his system at the time of his death.

“I placed the phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched,” said Joe Prude last September on the day the body camera footage was released. “When I say get lynched, that was full fledged, murder, cold-blooded — nothing other than cold-blooded murder.”

City leadership disputes, changes

Public disagreements between Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and then-Police Chief La’Ron Singletary highlighted the controversies brought up by the official handling of the case.

Singletary announced his retirement — along with the entire RPD command staff — shortly after details of Prude’s death went public, but Warren wouldn’t grant him that exit as she fired him just a few days later. On the same day Singletary was fired, the City’s Communications Director and Corporation Counsel were suspended for 30 days without pay for “failure to act, inform, and follow policy and procedures.”

In a sit-down interview with News 8 WROC anchor Adam Chodak, the mayor insisted that multiple people on different levels of the city’s organizational structure misled her about Prude’s death. She said the RPD acted deceptively and the suppression of information was “done purposely.

Singletary consistently said the mayor’s statements were false.

The disagreements culminated in a nearly nine-hour deposition in which Singletary disputed the mayor’s claims regarding Prude’s death and the six-month delay between when it happened and when the public was notified.

Singletary has since filed a lawsuit against the mayor and the city. Singletary filed a notice of claim in December, accusing the mayor of defamation of character, wrongful termination, and more.

The lawsuit says the mayor’s “false and defamatory statement” as well as “material omissions” cause harm to Singletary’s reputation for “honesty, integrity, truthfulness.” It alleges pressure to support Warren’s “false narrative” created a “hostile work environment” that prevented Singletary from “performing his duties as Chief of Police.”

According to the lawsuit, Singletary is seeking $1.5 million in damages.

In response to the lawsuit, City of Rochester officials said in a statement, in part: “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.

Singletary applied for the police chief job in Austin, Texas earlier this year, but ultimately did not get the job as the city narrowed its search to three other candidates last month.

Warren has since lost a primary race for re-election to sitting City Councilmember Malik Evans by a wide margin as Evans received 66% of the vote in June.

“Today we may have not won the race, but this is not over yet,” Warren said in a speech to her supporters late Tuesday. “My journey isn’t over yet. The best is yet to come.”

“We will be holding him [Malik Evans] accountable, just like we did with Lovely Warren,” said Stanley Martin of Free the People ROC Thursday. Martin won an election herself in June for an at-large seat on Rochester’s City Council.

The mayor is still facing multiple criminal charges, stemming from a drug bust involving her estranged husband and campaign finance violations.

No charges, multiple investigations, police changes

A grand jury decided not to indict any of the police officers involved in Prude’s death back in February.

“A grand jury has voted not to indict any police officer on charges related to the death of Daniel Prude,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said on February 24. “My office concluded there was sufficient evidence surrounding Mr. Prude’s death to present the case to a grand jury, and we presented the most comprehensive case possible.

“I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community, and communities across the country will rightfully be disappointed by this outcome,” James said.

“The system failed Daniel Prude again,” Prude family lawyer Elliot Shields said of the grand jury’s decision. ”It failed him on March 22 when he was released from the hospital. It failed him on the night of March 23 when the police used deadly force against him. And it failed him again today.”

Shields said Prude’s brother Joe was “heartbroken.”

An independent City Council investigation concluded that key City of Rochester officials “knowingly suppressed” information about Prude’s death, and said the ultimate decision to not disclose the death of Prude to the public was that of Mayor Lovely Warren, but it fell short of saying she was solely responsible.

“Did officials of City government suppress information about the arrest and death of Daniel Prude between March 23, 2020, when the arrest occurred, and September 2, 2020, when the Prude family publicly released body-worn camera footage of the incident? The straightforward answer is yes,” said Special investigator, attorney Andrew Celli. “The investigation revealed no explanation that fully accounts for the more than four-month delay between the death of an unarmed man at the hands of Rochester police, and public disclosure of the facts and circumstances under which the death occurred — other than a decision or series of decisions not to make such disclosure.“

“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. But Mayor Warren alone is not responsible for the suppression of the circumstances of the Prude Arrest and Mr. Prude’s death,” the report said.

Despite the delayed released of information pertaining to this now-high profile incident, the special investigator said this is a policy and political judgement, not a legal one:

“It is important to note that the decision whether to inform the public of a significant event by way of an announcement or other form of notification is a policy judgment, and a political one, not a legal one. There are no written rules or standards in Rochester that govern the conduct of the Mayor, members of the City Council, or high appointed officials like the Chief of Police or the Corporation Counsel in these matters. Accordingly, 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. The judges of that question are the citizens of the City of Rochester and the public at large.”

A federal civil lawsuit filed from the Prude family against the City of Rochester alleges there was an internal cover-up

The City of Rochester’s Office of Public Integrity has cleared all city employees of any potential wrongdoing in connection to the death of Prude last December. In a 48-page report, officials found no employee “violated city or departmental policies or ethical standards.”

The Rochester Police Department completed its internal investigation into Daniel Prude’s death in early July, but nearly two months later have still not released the findings of that investigation to the public.

Activists at Thursday’s press conference said they were frustrated that protesters were still being prosecuted while the officers involved remain uncharged on paid suspension.

Activists at Thursday’s press conference said authorities, like District Attorney Doorley, have not sought justice in Prude’s death and again called on her to resign. When asked about the comments, Doorley issued the following statement Thursday:

“As I have stated before, I was re-elected by the people of Monroe County to serve as the District Attorney. Upon signing the Oath of Office, I made a pledge and a commitment to the people of this community that I will serve as the District Attorney to promote justice and public safety. I have no intention of resigning and will continue to serve the residents of Monroe County.”

Since the events that transpired last year the RPD has since updated some policies, including:

  • Duty to intervene
  • Chokehold ban
  • Mental hygiene detention
  • De-escalation
  • Use of force
  • Use of force for juveniles

In the mayor’s last budget, approved by City Council in June, Rochester’s Police Accountability Board received its full $5 million in funding, while the RPD’s budget was reduced by $4.5 million.

“After interviewing City employees, reviewing relevant City records, and examining related policies, procedures, and ethical standards, OPI found no evidence that any City employee within its jurisdiction, violated City or departmental policies or ethical standards with respect to their actions in response to the death of Mr. Prude. Based on this finding and the limited scope of the investigation. This matter is closed as “not provable.”

The seven Rochester police officers initially suspended with pay in connection to the incident were Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.

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