Two top cops have resigned from the police force in Rochester, New York, amid allegations that their department engineered a cover-up of a Black man’s wrongful death. In March, Rochester officers detained Daniel Prude in the midst of what his family’s lawyer has since described as “an acute, manic, psychotic episode.” Prude suffocated in the spit hood police pulled over his head, but his death only became public knowledge last week, when the family released body-cam footage in a news conference. The delay sparked outrage and allegations of a deliberate cover-up, which police chief La’Ron Singletary has adamantly denied. Nonetheless, Singletary and deputy chief Joseph Morabito have now announced their retirement.
“As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character,” Singletary said in a statement on Tuesday, according to the New York Times. “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.”
Still, as the Guardian reports, Singletary was among the defendants named in a federal lawsuit Prude’s family filed against the Rochester police department that same day. And over the weekend, New York attorney general Letitia James announced that she would convene a grand jury to hear evidence in the case.
Below, everything we know about Daniel Prude’s death.
Daniel Prude was reportedly experiencing mental health problems when police detained him.
On March 22, Rochester resident Joe Prude took his 41-year-old brother, who was visiting from Chicago and had a history of mental health issues, to the hospital for evaluation on the basis of “suicidal ideation.” According to the New York Times, Daniel Prude was acting erratically, but the hospital discharged him after a few hours. Early on the morning of March 23, he ran naked from Joe’s house, prompting Joe to call the police. Rochester police documents reportedly show that Joe informed officers of his brother’s hospitalization and the reasons for it.
When responding officers found Prude, the Times reports that he was ranting, and a witness said he claimed to have coronavirus. They pulled a white, mesh hood over his head to keep him from spitting, and sat him down in the street. The spit hood apparently only served to upset Prude, who tried to get up; officers then pinned him to the ground, one holding his head to the pavement while another applied a knee to his back. Shortly afterward, he stopped moving — according to a lawsuit filed on September 8, his heart stopped beating, and although paramedics revived him through CPR, his family ultimately removed him from life support on March 30.
In April, the Monroe County medical examiner concluded that Daniel Prude died by homicide, as a result of asphyxiation from restraint, with “excited delirium” and PCP use as contributing factors.
Prude’s death was kept quiet — until body-cam footage was released in September.
The Times reports that, following Prude’s death, the Rochester police department released no comment; while Prude was in the hospital on life support, chief Singletary allegedly told the mayor that he had overdosed on PCP. The officers involved were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing in an internal investigation, the results of which have not been made public. Indeed, Prude’s death did not make the news cycle until September 2, when his family shared body-cam footage of the arrest at a news conference.
The video, which is graphic and disturbing, shows Prude kneeling in the middle of a dark street, totally naked and shouting in the snow. He yells for an officer’s gun but complies with their orders before they put the hood on him; only then does he try to get up. That’s when the officers force him to the ground, holding his face to the asphalt as he pleads: “Trying to kill me!” About two minutes later, he stops moving. Per the Associated Press, that’s when one of the officers “notice[d] water coming out of Prude’s mouth,” and another observed, “He feels pretty cold.”
The officers then alerted paramedics, who resuscitated Prude. According to the Times, one of the paramedics told the officers: “So, PCP can cause what we call ‘excited delirium.’ I guarantee you that’s how he coded. It’s not you guys’ fault. You’ve got to keep yourselves safe.”
But as Joe Prude pointed out at the news conference, “The man [was] defenseless, buck naked on the ground. He [was] cuffed up already.”
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help,” Joe said. “Not for my brother to get lynched.”
Singletary allegedly withheld information about Prude’s arrest.
The Times reports that, although he informed Rochester mayor Lovely Warren “that Mr. Prude had an apparent drug overdose while in custody,” Chief Singletary failed to mention “the actions his officers took to forcibly restrain Mr. Prude.” Meanwhile, coronavirus precautions meant that Joe Prude could not see his brother in the hospital, and he allegedly had little information as to what had happened. His family filed an open records request on April 3 to obtain body-cam footage and preserve any evidence from the encounter, per the Times, while AG James’s office was informed of Prude’s death on April 16.
As a matter of course, the AG’s office handles investigations into deaths of unarmed civilians in New York police custody. In early June, amid widespread protests over racialized police brutality, James reportedly asked that the body-cam footage not be released, in order to avoid compromising her investigation. Or so says the city — a spokesperson for James subsequently denied to the Times that the AG ever submitted such a request, “plain and simple.”
Meanwhile, the Rochester police department had already cleared the officers involved in Prude’s death, having determined that the “conduct displayed when dealing with Prude appear[ed] to be appropriate and consistent with their training,” according to the Times.
Since the body-cam footage has been made public, protests have placed pressure on officials.
Protests quickly followed the release of the body-cam footage, and on September 4, Mayor Warren suspended the seven officers involved — without naming them. “Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by our police department, our mental health care system, our society, and he was failed by me,” she said at a press conference.
But over the weekend, Singletary maintained that he would not resign in compliance with demands from local Black Lives Matter activists. By Tuesday, however, he had reversed course. “The events over the past week are an attempt to destroy my character and integrity,” he explained, announcing his retirement. “The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for.”
Still, Singletary is among the defendants named in the family’s lawsuit, filed September 8, which argues that Rochester officers applied deadly force in violation of their own policies. Further, the suit alleges that the police department exercised “deliberate negligence” and orchestrated a “cover-up” of its actions. Calling the resignations “a good first step,” the family’s attorney, Elliot Shields, said that both Warren and Singletary “have failed to address or repudiate their department’s determination, which demonstrates a complete lack of leadership. That’s why the RPD needs a complete overhaul — there is much work to be done.”