Top Police Brass in Rochester Resign Over Daniel Prude Killing

Naked protesters wearing “spit hoods” in reference to the killing of Daniel Prude demonstrate Monday outside the Public Safety Building in Rochester, N.Y. (Tracy Schuhmacher/Democrat & Chronicle via AP)

ROCHESTER (CN) — The top two police chiefs of New York’s third-largest city resigned Tuesday after several days of protests and public outcry in response to the suffocation death of a Black man last March.  

Rochester Chief of Police La’Ron D. Singletary and Deputy Chief Joseph Morabito both announced their retirements Tuesday afternoon, the same day that the Singletary and others were hit with a federal complaint over the killing of Daniel Prude.

“Bad cops are the result of bad policy — and the city and the RPD have for decades maintained an unlawful municipal policy, practice and custom of failing to discipline officers who use excessive force and then fabricate their account of their interactions with said individuals in arrest and charging paperwork to bring one or more of a trinity of offenses as their favored cover charges: disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and obstruction of governmental administration,” says the 66-page complaint, filed by attorney Elliot D. Shields from the Manhattan firm Roth & Roth and by Donald Thompson from Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin in Rochester.

Daniel Prude, 41, died March 30 when his family took him off life support, seven days after Rochester officers who encountered him running naked through the street put a hood over his head to stop him from spitting, then held him down on cold wet pavement for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. 

Receiving no public attention at the time, Prude’s death occurred just as the emergence of coronavirus made New York a global hotspot.

That changed a week ago, however, when Prude’s family released police body-camera video obtained through a public records request that captured his fatal interaction with the officers. 

Joe Prude, 44, right, and his son Armin, 18, stand Thursday with a picture of Joe Prude’s brother Daniel Prude, 41, in Rochester, New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

The footage shows officers covering Prude’s head with a spit hood, designed to protect police from bodily fluids, then pressing his face into the pavement for two minutes. 

In Tuesday’s complaint, Prude’s sister Tameshay blames top leadership at the Rochester Police Department for fostering a long-running and “entrenched culture” within the department that condones and encourages officers to use excessive force as a matter of course, and to lie in official police paperwork and sworn testimony to cover up their unlawful actions. 

“The chief policymaking officials who have condoned these unconstitutional policies and practices are Chief Singletary and [Deputy Chief of Administration Mark] Simmons who have failed to institute a system to ensure that excessive force incidents are properly investigated and that bad officers are held accountable,” the complaint states. 

Filed in the Western District of New York, the suit alleges that Singletary lied to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren about the facts of arrest, and never told her that the officers had used excessive force against Prude without justification, resulting in his death. 

Mayor Warren announced last week that seven Rochester police officers had been suspended with pay in connection to the incident. “Mr. Daniel Prude was failed by the police department, our mental health care system, our society and he was failed by me,” she said at a press conference Thursday. 

Sgt. Michael Magri and suspended officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor and Josiah Harris are all named as co-defendants in the complaint brought by Tameshay Prude.  

According to the lawsuit, the officers failed to use any basic deescalation tactics or communication skills to calm Prude, who was in the midst of an acute, manic, psychotic episode.  

Instead, the officers casually chatted among themselves, and made jokes at Prude’s expense, the suit alleges.

Two days after Warren announced the officers’ suspensions, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that her office had moved to empanel a grand jury to investigate Prude’s death. 

“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish. My office will immediately move to empanel a grand jury as part of our exhaustive investigation into this matter,” James said Saturday. “My office will immediately move to empanel a grand jury as part of our exhaustive investigation into this matter.” 

Local Black Lives Matter activists have been calling for Chief Singletary to resign since Wednesday, due to his department’s handling of the Prude death investigation. 

Singletary on Tuesday condemned the “mischaracterization and the politicization” of his actions following Prude’s death in police custody. 

“As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character,” he said in a statement. “The events over the past week are an attempt to destroy my character and integrity. The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for.” 

Representatives for the city of Rochester did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday. 

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