The chief and entire command staff of the police department in Rochester, New York, resigned on Tuesday — among other department changes — as outrage continued over the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man with mental health issues who died after having been put in a “spit hood” and restrained by officers in March.
Chief La’Ron Singletary announced that he would be retiring after 20 years on the force, according to a news release from the department. Singletary said the events of the past week “are an attempt to destroy my character and integrity.”
By describing his departure as a retirement, and filing his retirement papers, the chief and the other officers will be able to draw on their pension and health benefits.
“The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for,” Singletary, 40, said in his resignation letter. “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.”
Deputy Chief Joseph Morabito and Commander Fabian Rivera also announced their retirements Tuesday. Two other high ranking officials, Deputy Chief Mark Simmons and Commander Henry Favor, returned to a lower ranking of lieutenant.
Mayor Lovely Warren said during a City Council briefing Tuesday that the “entire Rochester police command staff” has retired and that “there may be a number of others that will decide to leave, as well.” She insisted to the council Tuesday that Singletary was not asked to resign and that she felt he had given his “very best.”
In a statement Tuesday, Warren said that the chief will remain in charge of the department through the end of the month.
“While the timing and tenor of these resignations is difficult, we have faced tough times before. We will get through this together,” Warren said.”
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Tameshay Prude, Prude’s sister, sued the city and some members for the police department Tuesday, including Singletary. The complaint claims that Prude died as a result of “unlawful force” and the “deliberate disregard” for his medical needs.
Relatives of Prude, 41, released police videos of the March 23 encounter last week and claimed that they show that officers used excessive force. Prude died of “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” with the drug PCP listed as a contributing factor, according to an autopsy report released by the family from Monroe County Medical Examiner Nadia Granger.
Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, said he had mental health and drug problems and had been acting out on March 22. Joe Prude called 911 that day, and Daniel Prude was hospitalized for about three hours for a mental health check.
The videos show that officers found Prude naked in the middle of a street shortly after 3 a.m. March 23. Prude complied with orders to get on the ground face down and put his hands behind his back, the video shows.
While handcuffed, Prude seemed to be speaking in a nonsensical manner, at one point asking officers for a gun, according to the videos. Police said the officers placed a spit hood on Prude because he said he had COVID-19.
At one point, it appeared that Prude stopped breathing. Paramedics tried to revive him, and he was put on life support at a hospital. He died seven days later.
Warren announced Thursday that seven officers had been suspended, and New York Attorney General Letitia James said Saturday that she had been empowered by a state grand jury to investigate Prude’s death.
Michael Mazzeo, president of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing city officers, said Friday that his members had been told for months that they did nothing wrong.
Reporters questioned Singletary about a possible resignation during a news conference Sunday, but the chief said only that reports of his resignation were a “rumor” and that he had not been asked to step down.
Rochester has been the focus of protests for days as demonstrators criticized the delay in releasing information about Prude’s detainment and death. Amid questions about whether Singletary withheld information from the mayor, Singletary said Sunday that he had provided information as it became available to him.
Warren said Sunday that the chief had her full support. She backed up Singletary’s account and said he called her following Prude’s detainment on March 23, but she acknowledged that she was not aware of the autopsy report in April.
“He handled it the way he needed to handle it internally,” Warren said. “So when he made the call to me, it was the information he had at that time, and then he did what he needed to do on the back end.”
Warren said that she was made aware of the video by the city’s law department on Friday and that the chief did “everything possible” to get justice for the Prude family. She said the City Council will be reviewing the timeline and all pertinent documentation about the chief’s actions.
Warren also announced police reforms Sunday, saying the city’s crisis intervention team would be moved out of the police department.