The city of Rochester, New York, released 325 pages of internal emails, police reports and other documents on Monday that show a concerted effort by police and city officials to delay the release of incriminating body camera footage in the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after police pinned him to the ground in March.
The documents also include other examples of possible attempts by police and city officials to control the narrative around Prude’s death in custody.
A Prude family attorney’s request for body camera footage set into motion an effort by city and police officials to slow-walk the release of the tape, which shows officers kneeling on and restraining Prude.
Elliot Shields, an attorney retained by Prude’s brother, filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the footage on April 3. The footage was not released until August 12.
In an email sent May 28 – three days after Minneapolis Police killed George Floyd – Shields wrote to the city to say he had yet to receive any response.
The documents show that, following that email, city attorneys spoke with Rochester police officials and also an attorney in New York’s Attorney General’s office in an effort to deny or delay the request.
“I’m wondering if we shouldn’t hold back on this for a little while considering what is going on around the country,” one police official wrote in an email to a city attorney on June 4. Among those involved in the conversation include then-Chief La’Ron Singletary and current acting Chief Mark Simmons.
“We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions and conflate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationally,” Simmons wrote. “I ask that we reach out to Corporation Council and ask them to deny the request based on the fact that the case is still active, as it is currently being investigated for possible criminal charges to be brought forth by the AG’s office.”
“I totally agree,” Singletary responded.
The footage, released to the public two weeks ago, shows officers handcuff a naked Prude and cover his head with a “spit sock” after he claimed he had coronavirus and was spitting. The officers hold him and push him to the ground in a prone position, the video shows.
Prude stopped breathing and was declared brain-dead at a hospital, where he died a week later, on March 30.
The Monroe County Medical Examiner ultimately ruled Prude’s death a homicide, citing complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint. The report also cites excited delirium and acute PCP intoxication as contributing factors to the immediate cause of death.
Accusations of cover-up
The release of that footage to the public two weeks ago has led to protests in Rochester and accusations of a cover-up. On Monday, the same day the city released the documents, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren pushed out the police chief ahead of his retirement and suspended two other city employees.
“This initial look has shown what so many have suspected, that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department,” Warren said in a news release. “One that views everything through the eyes of the badge and not the citizens we serve. It shows that Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who reviewed the case throughout City government at every level.”
In a statement last week announcing his retirement, Singletary said the public was misinformed about what he did.
“The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for,” Singletary said. “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.”
Last week, Prude’s sister filed suit in federal court against Singletary, 13 other officers and the upstate New York city, claiming in part a department cover-up of the death. Neither Singletary nor the city responded to requests for comment about the litigation.
Simmons, the acting chief, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment Wednesday.
New York’s Freedom of Information Law allows state ag