ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester City Council held a public briefing Thursday with Mayor Lovely Warren, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, and a number RPD command staff members.
At the beginning of the week City Council announced these public briefings between the three would happen regularly in response to protests over the death of Daniel Prude. Tuesday’s was cancelled due to the announcement of Singletary’s retirement moments before it was scheduled to begin.
Joining Singletary in retirement is Deptuty Chief Joe Morabito, Commander Fabian Rivera, and Commander Elena Correia. Rochester police officials say both Deputy Chief Mark Simmons and Commander Henry Favor are returning to the previously held rank of lieutenant. Deputy Chief Mark Mura will return to the previously held position of captain.
During the briefing, Chief Singletary said police dogs present at the protests were accompanied by New York State Police, and were not with the Rochester Police Department. Mayor Warren said she requested to state officials that the state police no longer bring dogs to the demonstration, describing their presence as “triggering.”
When Councilmember Mary Lupien asked if New York State Police assistance was necessary at the protests, Chief Singletary said it’s tough to project back-up needs without first knowing how many demonstrators would be participating on a given night. Nightly protest attendance has ranged from hundreds to thousands over the past week.
Councilmembers Lupien and Mitch Gruber asked about Rochester police officers covering their names and badge numbers during demonstrations. Deptuty Chief Morabito said he approved that, and said that protesters have been looking up their information online and threatening the officers’ families. Whether it’s legal or not is something the city’s legal department is researching.
Mayor Warren said she recommends naming an interim police chief to hold the position through June 2021, adding that the resources spent on a national search could be difficult to find a leader given the situation currently in Rochester. The mayor said she hopes to find an interim police chief before Singletary’s last day on September 29 so the current command staff can assist in the transition.
Councilman Willie Lightfoot asked police what determines an assembly unlawful, to which Chief Singletary responded: “When agitators in the crowd throw things at officers, and when it no longer becomes peaceful. That’s when it becomes an unlawful assembly.” Deputy Chief Morabito said he was the one who has made the determinations of unlawful assembly.
Councilman Gruber asked what changed the police response from Saturday’s confrontations to Sunday, which was peaceful. Mayor Warren said community members participating as a buffer helped de-escalate, and the mayor also said she met with police Sunday about tactics used.
“I believe in peaceful protest, it’s the protesters actions which elicits a response from police,” Chief Singletary said. “The last few nights have been peaceful on both sides.”
In Wednesday’s briefing, Mayor Warren apologized for not informing the council about the death of Daniel Prude. “I want to take a moment to apologize to City Council, because you were not fully briefed on this matter, and at any point in time before the video came out,” Mayor Warren said.
The mayor was also asked Wednesday about what line needed to be crossed by protesters to warrant the police use of pepper balls and tear gas, to which the mayor responded “You’d have to ask RPD.”
Wednesday on WXXI Connections, City Council President Loretta Scott said that on August 20, Mayor Warren told her about Prude’s death — but only mentioned the drug overdose.
Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago, died after an encounter with Rochester police in March, but news of the incident didn’t come to light until September 2, and now the case is being investigated by the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
The autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death of Prude a homicide. The report says 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 his death, which could explain his erratic behavior.
Seven Rochester police officers have been suspended with pay in connection to the incident: Officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.
A federal civil lawsuit filed from the Prude family against the City of Rochester alleges there was an internal cover-up. Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, and other command staff within the department, have since announced their retirements.
Protests have been ongoing in Rochester since the news broke Wednesday.
This is an ongoing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.
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