ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Rochester Police Locust Club held a press conference Friday morning. It was the first time the local police union spoke publicly since news of Daniel Prude’s death broke Wednesday.
“We did not immediately address this matter because it was necessary for us to seek answers,” said Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo.
Mazzeo said the union was told by Police Chief La’Ron Singletary’s office that there was “no concerns of the actions” of the officers.
“The message that was conveyed to us by the chief’s office at that time was that here was no concern of the actions of our members and that they had followed correct protocols per their training,” Mazzeo said. “Since it’s a criminal investigation the union representative did not accompany our members in that interview.”
MORE | Autopsy report: Daniel Prude death ruled a homicide, died from asphyxia due to ‘physical restraint’
Mazzeo was asked if the police chief should resign, after activists called for him to step down Thursday.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on that,” Mazzeo said. “Should he be held accountable? Yes — and I think the person holding him accountable should be held accountable as well.”
In her press conference on Thursday, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren suspended seven officers that were involved in the March incident.
“I am suspending the officers in question today against council’s advice, and I urge the attorney general to complete her investigation,” Mayor Warren said. “I understand that the union may sue the city for this, they shall feel free to do so — I have been sued before.”
“Only yesterday did we learn that an internal investigation has been committed,” Mazzeo said. “Only yesterday did we learn that seven of our members would be suspended. Like everyone else we have concern. The troubling concern is on the releasing of evidence, but it’s important to remember, the release of information is needed to be transparent, but it must be balanced to ensure the rights and protection of any individual involved in that investigation and that includes victims and suspects. Without a conclusion to this criminal investigation we know no more than anyone else at this time.”
The police union president questioned Mayor’s Thursday press conference.
“I think the mayor has a cloud over her head right now and I think that’s distracting her to do her job accurately,” Mazzeo said. “I think it was a careless and reckless press conference that was done yesterday and we have to remember whats most important — the safety of the public. I did not see anything that was done to ensure everyone’s safety.”
Mazzeo said said the union has waited to speak about the incident because the organization was gathering facts and awaiting the results of the investigation.
“The union was placed in a very difficult situation and determined it would not be prudent in the interests of our organization to respond until we had all the information,” Mazzeo said. “The union completely understands the strong concerns the family and the public has on not being provided adequate information.”
Full press conference
Mazzeo says he first saw the video when it surfaced publicly Wednesday.
“I just saw the video two days ago,” Mazzeo said. “You look at the video and then you also have to take so much encompassing information in placing that video in the context that it had to be. It’s also important to understand that especially in the editing video you may hear things, you may not hear things. What you saw, it ‘snot complete and certainly not accurate, and that speaks to what needs to be done. What needs to be done is have this investigation completed.”
MORE | WATCH: Footage of encounter between Daniel Prude and Rochester police officers before his death
Although Mazzeo says he didn’t see the video until Wednesday, he says the union was notified of a FOIL request for body camera footage in July.
“Upon looking back, we found an email dated July 31 that indicated that a body worn video was going to be released — not files, not records, not reports, but video,” Mazzeo said. “It had no mention that it involved an in-custody death.”
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 Wednesday, and now the case is being investigated by the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
“I want the state attorney general to tell you — I think it should be independent, I think it should be at the conclusion, very transparent,” Mazzeo said. “I hope, and I’m going to try to ensure that when they conclude that investigation, that they not only come out with a decision, but they come out with a transparent report and evidence to show. If there’s a need to change the way policing is done, lets change them. An officer does not have the ability to disregard what they’re mandated to do.”
Mazzeo displayed a spit bag, similar to the one officers used on Prude during the March encounter on Jefferson Avenue.
“It’s used in a case, in a situation where an individual is spitting,” Mazzeo said. “During the course of this — it’s been out there enough that he made reference to having COVID — he was also spitting. There’s a number of other issues with airborne pathogens that officers encountered that are very dangerous. That’s the purpose and the protocol in place.”
Mazzeo said he acknowledged that police have to be better, but said other resources should be improved as well.
“I will say that we have to do things better, but that also includes on the hospital side, on the EMTs side on the responses to that as well,” Mazzeo said. “The officers have to be supported as well at 3:30 in the morning.
“I absolutely believe that we need more help,” Mazzeo said. “It wasn’t that long ago when New York state mental health facilities were closed and people were put out on the street and who was the only other agency who was able to deal with them? The police. We definitely need changes and help.”
MORE | Rochester civil rights groups demand firing, prosecution of officers involved in Daniel Prude’s death
In total, seven Rochester police officers are suspended with pay: Officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.
“Lets be honest here — yesterday they suspended seven members,” Mazzeo said. “The mayor says she’s disappointed in the chief,but hes going to do better. These seven members are suspended. In fact one of the members was never on scene with Mr. Prude. Did they not even review that?”
In Thursday’s press conference, the mayor also said she was original told by Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary that Prude’s death was the result of a drug overdose.
“Chief Singletary never informed me of the actions of his officers to forcible restrain Mr. Prude,” Mayor Warren said. “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.”
That 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.
“A couple of these officers are pretty young officers and they’re confused as well,” Mazzeo said. “I think when this investigation is over and you compare it to just what the training went through, to me, it looks like they were watching the training in front of them and doing it step by step by what that training says to do. So if there is a problem with that, if there’s an issue with that, lets change it.
“What is going to prevent the same occurrence from happening tonight, or this weekend, to officers who have to follow a protocol?” Mazzeo said. “If the officer does something wrong outside of protocol, then they should be disciplined. If they follow protocol to a T, then what do you say to them? The questions should go to New York State Division of Criminal Justice Service. There’s videos that show exactly why and how that tactic is used to a t to what that officer did. They explain it.
MORE | 8 arrested, 2 officers injured, pepper spray deployed during Daniel Prude protest in Rochester
Mazzeo says there needs to be better communication and better organizations between city organizations.
“We have to work together. We got to cooperate, both with the city and with the department,” he said. “We don’t have a choice in that. The department doesn’t have a choice in that, and City Hall doesn’t. That’s the requirement that we have to do for this community and if something isn’t done correctly that it should be changed and if there’s accountability than hold people accountable.
“There needs to be more emphasis on working together, getting information together,” Mazzeo said. “We have nine city council members — I can’t even tell you the last time I’ve had a conversation, other than saying hello, with any of them.”
The police union president says the incident speaks to the issue of substance abuse in the community.
“We believe that that individual had a severe problem or issues, there’s documentation there that listed various drugs,” Mazzeo said. “It’s unfortunate what we’re dealing with, way more than we should be dealing with — it’s a national crisis. It’s not that uncommon which is unfortunate and telling to what our problems are. We have a number of overdose deaths in this community, daily, weekly , monthly — way more than we should.”
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide details as they become available.