Top police leaders in Rochester, N.Y., announced their retirements Tuesday amid nightly protests over the city’s handling of the suffocation death of Daniel Prude, with the outgoing chief accusing critics of trying to “destroy my character and integrity.”
Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and Deputy Chief Joseph M. Morabito released e-mailed statements confirming their retirements. Mayor Lovely Warren told city council members in an online briefing that she believes the entire command staff decided to retire.
The sudden announcements came more than five months after the death of Mr. Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who died several days after an encounter with police March 23 in New York’s third-largest city. There have been nightly protests in the city since the video’s release Wednesday. Mr. Prude’s family filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging the police department sought to cover up the true nature of Mr. Prude’s death.
“The events over the past week are an attempt to destroy my character and integrity,” Mr. Singletary said in a prepared statement. “The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for. The mischaracterization and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not based on facts, and is not what I stand for.”
Mr. Singletary, who spent his entire career inside the Rochester Police Department, was appointed chief in April 2019. Mr. Singletary will stay on through the end of the month, Ms. Warren said.
“This is great news,” said Iman Abid, speaking for Free the People ROC, which has held nightly protests since details of Mr. Prude’s death emerged. “It says to the people that people are able to move things and to shape things. The police chief wouldn’t retire if it weren’t for something that he felt he was accountable to.”
But, she said, nightly protests will continue to push other demands, including the resignation of the mayor, defunding and demilitarizing of police, and development of a state law barring police departments from responding to mental health crises.
Officers found Mr. Prude running naked down the street in March, handcuffed him and put a hood over his head to stop him from spitting, then held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. He died a week later after he was taken off life support.
His brother, Joe Prude, had called 911 seeking help for Daniel Prude’s unusual behaviour. He had been taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation earlier that night but was released after a few hours, his brother told officers.
His death sparked outrage after his relatives last week released police body camera video and written reports they obtained through a public records request.
Seven police officers were suspended a day later, and state Attorney General Letitia James said Saturday she would form a grand jury and conduct an “exhaustive investigation” into Mr. Prude’s death.
In a federal lawsuit, Mr. Prude’s family alleged that it took more than 90 seconds for officers to notice he had stopped breathing because they were chatting and making jokes at his expense. Mr. Prude’s sister, Tameshay, filed the lawsuit as executor of his estate and named the City of Rochester, Mr. Singletary and officers involved in the arrest as defendants.
The lawsuit argues officers used force against Mr. Prude at a time when he “obviously posed no threat to the safety of the officers or anyone else.”
“Mr. Prude was in the midst of an acute, manic, psychotic episode,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Prude was unarmed, naked and suffering. He needed help.”
Police union officials have said the officers were following their training.
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