Editor’s note: The public deposition can be streamed in full at the bottom of this page.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary was questioned about the death of Daniel Prude in a live-streamed, public deposition with City Council Friday. The deposition lasted about nine hours.
Singletary’s testimony to the Independent Investigation Committee was about the Rochester Police Department’s handling of Prude’s death. The deposition was presided over by Councilmembers Michael Patterson and Malik Evans, who is also running for mayor.
MORE | Former RPD chief: ‘I repeatedly refused to lie for Mayor Warren’ in Daniel Prude death investigation
A New York State Attorney General’s investigation into the matter remains ongoing.
Singletary was fired by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren in September, after details about Prude’s March death following an encounter with Rochester police first became public.
— Singletary said he never described Prude’s death as the result of an overdose. Mayor Lovely Warren said in September that Singletary told her it was an overdose.
— Singletary said he told the mayor Prude’s death was ruled a homicide outside an elevator on April 13. The mayor previously stated she had “no idea” the death was ruled a homicide until August 4.
— Singletary said the mayor described the police officer’s actions as “murder” after she saw the footage on August 4.
— Singletary said City Hall officials wanted him to cooperate with a “narrative” and that he was “thrown under the bus.”
— Singletary said the responding officers caused Prude’s death.
— RPD officials didn’t want the body worn camera footage released to the public in early June, fearing blowback from the public in the days after George Floyd’s death, according to Singletary and supporting documents.
A long deposition
The deposition began at 9:30 a.m. Friday and lasted into the evening, with a few short breaks throughout.
Singletary was questioned by Andrew Celli, the City Council’s independent special investigator in the case. The former chief said it was his first time being deposed in a situation like this, and that he had reviewed documents sent by the special investigator’s office prior to the deposition.
Singletary said he was first informed about RPD’s encounter with Prude around 7:25 a.m. on March 23, 2020, via phone call from deputy chief Joe Morabito. Singletary said Morabito told him Prude was not in good condition, and was unconscious at the hospital. Singletary said he was told Prude was high on PCP at the time of the encounter.
Singletary said he contacted Mayor Lovely Warren to let her know about the police encounter with Prude. At that time the former chief told the mayor he had not seen the body worn video, but would call her back when he did. He said at this time, late March 2020, he did not see the mayor face-to-face often due to COVID-19.
Celli: “Did you explain to Mayor Warren that there was more than one police officer who had physical contact with Mr. Prude?”
Singletary: “Yes, I believe I described it as ‘officers.'”
Celli: “On this first call, did you let her know Mr. Prude was found outdoors, naked in the night?”
Singletary: “Yes. I advised her that he was making irrational statements when the officers were making contact.”
Celli: “Did the Mayor ask to view that body worn camera video on the first phone call?
Singletary: “No. It was a very preliminary call based on the information I received from Joe Morabito and I explained to her I would watch the body worn camera video and give more information.”
The former police chief said he spoke with Mayor Warren in person about Prude on March 23 (before Prude died), and April 27 — after the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. However, Singletary said he didn’t receive the full medical examiner’s report until May 13th. Singletary said Morabito discussed the details of the medical examiner’s report with him on April 10, but he didn’t have the full document in front of him at that time.
At the point of Singletary’s second meeting with the mayor on April 27, the investigation had already been handed off to the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
“We never had any conversation on Prude after, as there was nothing going on,” Singletary said. “The internal, as well as the criminal review, and AG office took over in April — so as far as the RPD standpoint, the internal investigation, we did not interview the officers, so we were at a standstill there.”
The former police chief said he and the mayor didn’t discuss Prude from April 27 through August 4, when the mayor says she first saw the body camera video. Upon seeing it, Singletary said the mayor told him she wanted all body worn camera recordings of every use of force in the City of Rochester.
“I told her there are thousands of uses of forces that occur in the City of Rochester,” Singletary said. “I said I don’t review every use of force, just the ones brought to my attention, whether that’s internally like a chain of command or externally by the public.”
In their initial conversations, Singletary said he told the mayor that officers used “stabilizing” techniques, but did not tell her specifically about the technique known as “segmenting.” It’s a restraint technique taught to law enforcement that appears to be what officers did to Prude, and involves officers placing their hands on a person’s head.
MORE | Use of force: Did Rochester officers follow protocol the night they encountered Daniel Prude?
“I did not use that term segmenting on that call,” Singletary said. “The mayor and I often talked in regular terms, if you will. I did not use the term segmenting in the first call nor did I in the second call.”
The former chief described segmenting as a “new technique” taught to the department in January last year. He said it is a technique when officers place their hands on someone’s head for “stabilization” purposes.
“I just basically said the officers had physical contact with Mr. Prude,” Singletary said of the first phone call to the mayor. “I didn’t go into detail until the second call.”
Singletary said in preliminary assessment of the body worn camera video — by him and the RPD’s command staff — they were looking to determine whether there was anything of criminal nature done by the officers in the video. Singletary said after preliminary review, he determined no officer had engaged in any criminal behavior. After reviewing documents, and the footage, Singletary called the mayor again to give her an update.
“It appeared that there was nothing egregious at that particular point in time,” Singletary said. “I explained to the mayor that we were going to be doing an investigation. I told the mayor there were no strikes, there were no punches with regard to the video. The officers held him down, there appear to be no punches, no strikes and I believe we talked a little bit about the Christopher Pate case on the second phone call, and I said it’s nothing like that. The officers held Mr. Prude down when he tried to get up.”
Singletary said he went over the documents he had about the incident in detail with the mayor over the phone call.
“I really wanted to make sure that I hit certain points — underlined, highlighted — as I was going through the document,” Singletary said.
Celli: “Did you tell her [Mayor Warren] an officer was holding his [Prude’s] head to the ground, while he was wearing a spit sock, while he was in handcuffs?”
Celli: “Did you tell the mayor, prior to going unconscious, Mr. Prude began to vomit?”
Singletary: “Yes. She was asking qualifying questions, ‘what do you mean he vomited?’ I said he was tended to by medical personnel, he was unconscious, and regained a pulse and was taken to the hospital.”
Celli: “At any time in that call did she say ‘chief I’d like to have a look at the body worn camera footage?'”
Singletary: “No she did not.”
Celli: “Did you suggest to her ‘mayor this is a serious incident, you might wan to have a look at it?'”
Singletary: “I did not. I gave the mayor the details that I had. I told her we were ordering investigations.”
Celli: “Why not?”
Singletary: “I just didn’t make a reference to it. When the mayor, in the past when she wants to look at the video, she has made it clear that she wants to look at the video.”
Celli: “Did you expect that once you described all this information to her that she would want to see the body worn camera footage?”
Singletary: “The mayor is pretty direct. If she wanted to see the video footage, she would have told me.”
As Prude’s medical prognosis was not promising, Singletary said he told the mayor this would be treated as in-custody death, and began ordering internal investigations. He said Major Crimes would proceed with a criminal review and the District Attorney would review the case. Due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 147, all civilian deaths in the custody police are placed in the jurisdiction of the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
The special investigator asked why the police department didn’t let media know about this incident. It wasn’t until Prude’s family went public with the information months later that the broader public knew what happened. Singletary said there were no discussions about going public with what happened. He said he contacted City Hall’s spokesperson who, according to the former police chief, said there were no media inquiries and if there were, they would discuss how to handle.
Celli: “When there’s an officer-involved shooting and the media is made aware, everybody knows and the department says ‘yes we are investigating.’ In this case there wasn’t any media coverage of Mr. Prude and the restraints. There was no public announcement of criminal investigation of police officers, is that correct?”
Singletary: “That is correct. At that particular point in time, Mr. Prude was still alive that entire week, and things were taking their course, and the investigation was underway, and there was no conversation about it.”
Singletary said he initially notified the mayor because officers were involved in the incident in a physical nature.
Contrary to Mayor Warren’s previous claims, Singletary said Friday he never told her that Prude died from a drug overdose, but did say the man was likely high on PCP.
In a September 3 press conference, one day after Prude’s death became public, Mayor Warren said she was told by Singletary that the cause of Prude’s death was a drug overdose.
“When our officers responded on March 23, I was informed that day by Chief Singletary that Mr. Prude had an apparent drug overdose while in custody,” Mayor Warren said in September. “Chief Singletary never informed me of the actions of his officers to forcibly restrain Mr. Prude. I only learned of those officer’s actions on August 4 when corporation counsel reviewed the video while fulfilling the FOIL request from Mr. Prude’s attorney. At no time, prior to August 4, did Chief Singletary, or anyone, make me aware or show me the video of the actions of the RPD officers involved in Mr. Prude’s death.”
According to Singletary’s testimony Friday, the mayor’s claims in September were not true, in regards to allegations of a drug overdose, as well as officers being physically involved with Prude.
“Never once did I use the term that Mr. Prude’s death was categorized as an overdose, nor can I find it written on any documents,” Singletary said Friday. “I’ve never characterized this incident as an overdose death.”
Singletary reiterated, on March 31 after Prude died, he spoke with his command staff about whether to move involved officers to administrative duties. He says he and the command staff’s position remained the same: They saw nothing egregious in the body worn camera video.
An email was forwarded to Singletary on April 6. It says an attorney representing Prude’s family had already served a notice on the city. It says they’d be working with the Locust Club to interview the officers. It also says body worn camera video had been given to the Locust Club.
Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo said in September that he hadn’t seen the body worn camera video until it was released to the public.
Another email sent in June from Cpt. Frank Umbrino talked about the status of the investigation and the discussion on if the body worn camera footage would be released.
Celli: “Would it be fair to say on June 4 when you read this chain that if the decision was made to release the body worn camera that’s something that the mayor office would have to be told about in light of demonstrations?”
Singletary: “Yes had that video been released, we would have had those conversations with the mayors office.”
FOIL requests for body worn camera footage and other documents can be denied if an investigation is ongoing.
“I would say that the investigation was opened based on the attorney general’s office has not concluded their portion,” Singletary said.
Singletary said in his monthly one-on-one meetings with the mayor, the two would regularly discuss homicides. He said each homicide in the city was important to both of them, including the Prude homicide.
Celli: “The police officers caused the death, correct?”
Singletary said he was approached while serving as the chief if he would consider a run for mayor, but said he wouldn’t run against Mayor Warren. He was then asked if he would consider a run for mayor since she fired him and he said “no.”
“I have enough to deal with right here,” Singletary said.
After a 45 minute recess, the deposition continued around 2:20 p.m. Friday. Singletary corrected an earlier statement, saying that he did talk to former deputy chief Morabito Thursday about the deposition, and current RPD Capt. Frank Umbrino Friday morning about it.
Celli asked Singletary if him speaking with his former colleagues might be seen as an attempt to corroborate their testimony and Singletary said it was to clarify, and refresh his memory.
Singletary reiterated that he knew after his April 10 discussion with Morabito that the immediate cause of Prude’s death was due to the conduct of police officers. He said Morabito never used the term “asphyxia” as reported on the medical examiner’s report as a cause of death.
Singletary said he couldn’t remember when he first heard the term “asphyxia” as a cause of death.
“I know we received the report on May 13, but I can’t recall the first time I laid my eyes on it,” he said.
Later that day, in the afternoon of Friday April 10, Singletary sent a text message to Mayor Warren saying he wanted to discuss Prude’s death. Singletary also sent text messages to City of Rochester Communication Director Justin Roj, and Corporate Counsel Tim Curtin — who were later suspended by Mayor Warren for 30 days without pay in connection to the city’s handling of Prude’s death. That suspension was announced the same day Mayor Warren fired Singletary as police chief.
Celli asked Singletary why documents sent between city officials, from the internal RPD investigation, didn’t reference the segmenting technique.
Celli: “Was this document selectively chosen to cover it up?”
Singletary: There was not an attempt to cover this up, it was done by the book.”
Singletary said “segmenting” is a technical term and that he used more conversational terms when discussing use of force techniques used by police.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice training video on “Segmenting”
Celli referenced a few text messages from Singletary to city officials about using the phrase “resisting arrest.” Singletary said “resisting” was told to him by Morabito.
Celli: “Would you say that every time a civilian is restrained by police that they are engaging in resisting arrest?”
Celli: “Why did you say ‘resisting arrest’ instead of ‘officers using restraint?'”
Singletary: “It’s what I remembered from the conversation that I had with Morabito and from watching the video.”
Singletary sent a text message to Roj and Curtin on April 10th, the former police chief said Prude’s death was a homicide, “as expected.”
Reaffirming his earlier sentiment that he never insisted Prude’s death was an overdose, he said if it was ruled an overdose, it wouldn’t have been ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.
Celli: “You spoke to the mayor on April 13 about Prude’s death?”
Celli: “Did you try calling her between the 10th and the 13th to follow up on the Prude matter?”
Singletary: “No, after the text message on Friday I didn’t follow up.
Celli: “You didn’t think it was important enough to follow up with the mayor?”
Singletary: “I did, I sent her a text.”
Celli: “You didn’t call her?”
Singletary: “I texted the mayor, I wanted to have a conversation with her.”
Celli: “Talk to me about the conversation with the mayor on the 13th.”
Singletary: “We were by the elevator, after a press conference I did about violence. I said ‘I sent you a text message about the medical examiner’s ruling about Prude’s death being a homicide.’ She said ‘homicide?’ I said ‘yeah we figured it would be homicide because of how the officers stabilized Mr. Prude.’ Then we talked about the Tremont Street incident and how a taser was used and how that contributed to the death.”
In a September interview with News 8 anchor Adam Chodak, Mayor Warren said: “Supposedly, somebody told me that he allegedly told me in an elevator. This is not something you tell the mayor, the leader of the city, in the elevator.”
Singletary said that conversation near the elevator with the mayor wasn’t heard by anyone else, with the closest person being approximately 15 feet away.
Singletary said the mayor called him on August 4 after she saw the body camera footage. He recalled she described the police officer’s actions as “murder.” The mayor said Singletary’s depiction of what was on the video wasn’t a fair representation of what happened, according to the former chief.
According to Singletary, the mayor was angered by the officers mocking Prude on the body camera footage, specifically Officer Mark Vaughn repeating Prude’s phrases of “Scoop crazy, Scoop crazy.”
Singletary recalled that she wanted the officers involved fired. He said she accused officer Vaughn of murder specifically, and expressed anger at the other responding officers who didn’t intervene.
Singletary said although the mayor accused one of his officers of murder, he did not consider removing him from public facing duties while investigations into the matter were still being processed by the respective parties.
After a 15 minute break, the deposition continue at 4:30 p.m. — 7 hours after the testimony began.
Singletary said he didn’t agree with the mayor’s accusation of murder, and he said they “could not get ahead of the investigations” in regards to disciplining the officers involved.
An email from Capt. Umbrino on August 26, about a week before Prude’s family made the body warn camera footage public, suggested that the RPD prepare a PowerPoint presentation about the incident for the public. The planned presentation was in anticipation of the attorney general completing the investigation. The email made reference to the RPD command staff (the 6th floor), feeling that “the longer it takes the better it is.”
According to Singletary, it was the advice of corporate counsel to not release the footage until the criminal investigation was completed by the attorney general’s office.
Celli asked Singletary why the mayor never made details of Prude’s death public before September 2.
“I’m not sure why. Her and I never discussed it,” Singletary said.
Singletary said he received a text message around noon on September 3, 2020 from City of Rochester Chief Equity Officer Dr. Cephas Archie. Singletary said Dr. Archie’s text said he would be calling the former chief soon on behalf of the the mayor. When Dr. Archie did call, Singletary said he was told the mayor would be holding a press conference that afternoon and that she was “going to beat you up a little bit, it’s not going to be pretty.” According to Singletary, Dr. Archie suggested that “I remain quiet, humble and take it on the chin.”
That afternoon press conference was the one where Mayor Warren expressed she was “deeply, personally, and professionally disappointed” in Singletary’s handling of Prude’s death. It was also the press conference where the mayor insisted the former chief told her Prude died from a drug overdose — a claim Singletary refuted earlier in Friday’s testimony.
Mayor Warren’s press conference: September 3, 2021
According to Singletary’s notice of claim against the city, “During that press conference on September 3rd, Mayor Warren state publicly that I had never informed her of the actions of Rochester police officers including actions to forcibly restrain Mr. Prude. Mayor Warren’s statement is false.”
The notice of claim continued to say “After that press conference, Dr. Archie texted me twice saying ‘you okay?’ at 4:46 p.m. and ‘Chief … ?’ at 4:49 p.m. At 7:37 p.m., Mayor Warren called to ask me ‘how you doing chief?’ I advised the mayor that i was displeased with her statements. Mayor Warren pleaded with me stating in sum and substance ‘she was sorry, but that we needed to move forward and that we are married, that she and I are married in this together, attached at the hip and that she needs me.’ I told Mayor Warren she had ruined my character, integrity, and reputation.”
Singletary said he feared he would be terminated if he acted against the mayor’s wishes.
The former chief said he was uncomfortable at a September 6 press conference. He said he believed the mayor was walking back some previously made statements, and trying to distance herself from the police department. He said he wasn’t prepared to confront her about it in that public setting.
Singletary said City Hall officials tried to protect a “narrative” about the incident and wanted Singletary to cooperate.
“They wanted to stick to a narrative that I didn’t tell the mayor that the officers had physical contact with Mr. Prude — which was not the case,” Singletary said.
Singletary said he told Communications Director Roj that he wouldn’t lie for the mayor.
“September 2 we went out there and said what happened,” Singletary said. “Then September 3 there was a meeting about my employment status. I don’t know what changed in 24 hours where I was getting thrown under the bus.”
Referencing being “thrown under the bus for no reason,” Singletary said in his notice of claim that he told Mayor Warren he would not lie for anyone.
“I stated that both my command staff and I acted by the book and to insinuate that I did not act properly as she did, publicly, is wrong,” Singletary said in the notice of claim.
After telling the Mayor he would not lie for her, Singletary says she asked him “where do we go from here?” He claimed the mayor then misstated that he failed to disclose the officer’s use of force and the results of the medical examiner’s office. He says he told her that wasn’t accurate.
Singletary says the Mayor never asked him to lie, but rather “asked me to omit the specifics of our conversation when I discussed the details of the medical examiner’s report and instead testify that the medical examiner’s report was mentioned only in passing and to further testify that, in hindsight, I should not have told the mayor ‘in passing by the elevator.'”
Singletary said “no one would believe that neither I or anyone in the city administration had no conversation with Mayor Warren about the Prude matter from April to August. I further told the mayor that I had text messages and emails indicating there have been conversations and communications with the mayor and her administration. I repeated that my integrity means too much to me and that I would lie for anyone.”
When Singletary announced his retirement on September 8, a week before he would be fired by Mayor Warren, he released a statement that said in part: “As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character.” In Friday’s deposition, he said the “outside entities” mentioned in that statement was in reference to City Hall officials.
In an interview on September 15, Mayor Warren said “I had no idea that the medical examiner ruled this a homicide until August 4 when I saw the video.”
Singletary maintains he discussed the medical examiner’s ruling with Mayor Warren by the elevator in the basement of City Hall after a press conference on April 13.
After watching the mayor’s interviews with News 8 WROC and WHEC on September 15 and 16, Singletary said he typed up a media statement that he was prepared to deliver.
The beginning of the statement, which ultimately was never delivered, began with extending condolences to the Prude family.
It then went on to say the RPD never tried to do a “cover-up.” Instead, Singletary said “This idea of a cover-up was authored by the mayor and her staff.”
Singletary said he had never shared these notes with anyone other than his attorneys and the special investigators involved in this investigation before Friday’s deposition.
“The mayor said, in her words to Adam Chodak, that I was purposefully deceitful — and that’s not true,” Singletary said.
An excerpt from that September 15 interview with Adam Chodak:
Adam Chodak: “When you first came out in public to talk about this, you knew that Chief Singletary had downplayed that incident. Why at that moment did you say he’s the right man for the job?”
Lovely Warren: “Adam, I’m a Black woman, and Chief Singletary is an African-American man. Both of us born and raised in this city. Family members in this city. I did not want to fire a Black man. And knowing the struggles that we have, and to really believe that we could get it right. That working together, that we could get this right, that we could repair this police department, we could do the things necessary, but when this report came out, and I saw all the things along the way. All the times I could’ve been contacted. All the times his own people said ‘Tell the mayor.’ And knowing what I knew, and what I was told, that this was a PCP overdose, I just couldn’t let it stand, because it was clear deception along the way, and information that could’ve been shared, but was not shared. I could only surmise that this was done purposefully.”
Singletary said public sentiment wasn’t buying the story that Mayor Warren believed in him do fulfill the role of police chief, and he said City Hall officials — specifically the mayor, deputy mayor, and communications director — “had to come up with another story.”
Singletary reiterated his earlier statement that disputed the mayor’s claims of the former chief saying Mr. Prude died from an overdose.
“Never once did I use the term that Mr. Prude’s death was categorized as an overdose, nor can I find it written on any documents,” Singletary said. “I’ve never characterized this incident as an overdose death.”
Celli: “Why wouldn’t you take the high road and make a public statement?”
Singletary: “And get fired?”
Celli: “Well, you got fired anyways.”
Singletary: “Right. it’s a no-win situation.”
Celli: “So why not make a statement?”
Singletary: “That’s what we’re doing now. I didn’t want it to be behind close doors.”
Celli: “You refused to participate in my investigation for months?”
Singletary: “That’s not accurate, Mr. Celli. We asked for your authority from the Supreme Court.”
Celli: “Do you believe telling the truth would have interfered with the attorney general’s investigation?”
Singletary said he was going to be the scapegoat as the mayor was preparing for an indictment on campaign finance charges.
“I don’t know to this day why I was fired,” Singletary said. “It said your employment is no longer effective.”
Singletary said he chose not to trash the mayor publicly. He said him being fired before his effective retirement date impacted his benefits after serving with the department for 20 years.
The city’s response
City of Rochester spokesperson Maisha Beard released a statement after the deposition concluded Friday night, saying:
“Today’s testimony proved that Mr. Singletary never shared the video depicting what truly happened to Mr. Prude with Mayor Warren prior to August 4. He stated in his opinion that ‘nothing egregious’ happened, disagreed that RPD officers were directly responsible for Mr. Prude’s death, and even went so far as to say everything was done ‘by the book.’ He downplayed what occurred from the very beginning through today, and believes that neither he, nor anyone in the Rochester Police Department, did anything wrong. Mayor Warren believes we need to move forward with honoring Daniel Prude, and all the past victims of police violence, by doing the necessary work to reform policing and achieve equity in Rochester.”
How we got here
Singletary has filed a notice of claim against the City of Rochester, the first step in the lawsuit process.
In a one-on-one interview with News 8 anchor Adam Chodak, Rochester Mayor Warren said she was kept in the dark regarding Prude’s death, adding that that the RPD’s handling if the incident was “clear deception,” and “done purposefully.”
In December, the City of Rochester’s Office of Public Integrity has cleared all city employees of any potential wrongdoing in connection to the death of Daniel Prude.
In total, seven Rochester police officers remain suspended with pay: Officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.
Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago, died after an encounter with Rochester police back in March, but news of the incident just came to light on September 2. Police worn body camera footage of the incident showed officers restraining a handcuffed Prude, who was naked with a spit hood over his head, before he ultimately went unconscious.
The autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death of Prude a homicide. The report said Prude’s cause of death includes “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report also showed that Prude also had a small amount of PCP in his system at the time of the encounter with police, which could explain his erratic behavior.
A federal civil lawsuit filed from the Prude family against the City of Rochester alleges there was an internal cover-up.
The New York State Attorney General’s office continues to investigate the incident.
Singletary’s Friday deposition was part of an independent investigation initiated by Rochester City Council continues to see if there was indeed a cover-up. That investigation is looking into City Hall, the Rochester Police Department and City Council itself.
Aside from Singletary, several other high-ranking members within the RPD’s command staff have also announced retirements, in a major leadership shake-up for the city’s police department.
Protests sparked following the news of Prude’s death in the city of Rochester throughout the month of September. Some demonstrations saw violent clashes between protesters and police.
Singletary’s full deposition
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.