New York

Top Rochester Cops Retire After Protests Following Daniel Prude's Death

The New York Civil Liberties Union has criticized the police use of “military tactics” including sound cannons, flash bangs, tear gas, and pepper balls against demonstrators

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The chief and deputy chief of the Rochester, New York, Police Department retired abruptly Tuesday after days of demonstrations over the March death of Daniel Prude, who lost consciousness after police held him down with a hood over his head.

Chief La'Ron Singletary decried what he said were personal attacks since details of Prude's death came to light last week.

"As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character. The events over the past week are an attempt to destroy my character and integrity," he said in a statement announcing his retirement after 20 years with the department.

Deputy Chief Joseph Morabito retired as well, after 34 years of service.

Last week, Mayor Lovely Warren suspended the seven officers involved in Prude's death after his family released police video from the March night when he was restrained on the streets of New York's third-largest city.

The video shows the officers covering Prude’s head with a “spit hood” designed to protect police from bodily fluids, after he complied with being handcuffed, then pressing his face into the pavement for two minutes. Prude, 41, was naked at the time of his arrest on the light-snowy day in March. He died a week later after he was taken off life support.

The police union head said the officers were following their training.

Protests have followed each day since the family released the video, sometimes spawning confrontations with demonstrators and the police.

On Sunday night, police said more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered in downtown Rochester as people chanting “We are elders, and we support our youth” and “say his name, Daniel Prude,” led a march to the Public Safety Building that houses police headquarters. Protest organizers had speeches scheduled, uniting the crowd early on in the night.

“I came out tonight as a born and raised Rochesterian who loves her city,” said Kera Turner, a protester.

Turner said she “threw up” when she first saw the footage of Prude from March. “It’s just unacceptable,” she added.

The New York Civil Liberties Union criticized the police use of “military tactics,” including sound cannons, flash bangs, tear gas, and pepper balls against the demonstrators.

“People speaking out are not enemy combatants, and to fire flash bangs, tear gas, and pepper balls at demonstrations against police violence only proves the point,” NYCLU Genesee Valley chapter director Iman Abid said in a statement Sunday. "The mayor and RPD must stop these warfare tactics now.”

The marches took place as New York's attorney general announced Saturday that a grand jury would investigate Prude's death.

“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement Saturday. She said the grand jury would be part of an “exhaustive investigation.”

Prude's death came after his brother, Joe Prude, had called 911 seeking help for his erratic behavior. Prude had run away from his brother's home late in the night, about eight hours after officers had already taken him into custody for a mental health evaluation because of suicidal thoughts. Prude spent a few hours in the hospital for the evaluation and then was released, Joe Prude told officers.

The Monroe County medical examiner listed the manner of death as homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report cited excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, as contributing factors.

A police internal affairs investigation cleared the officers involved of any wrongdoing, concluding in April that their “actions and conduct displayed when dealing with Prude appear to be appropriate and consistent with their training.” The seven officers were suspended Thursday.

Protesters have called on Warren and Singletary to step down over the delay in releasing details of Prude's death. They've also demanded police accountability and legislation to change how authorities respond to mental health emergencies.

The mayor and police chief said Sunday they had no plans to resign.

Warren announced at a news conference Sunday that the city's crisis intervention team and its budget would move from the police department to the city’s department of youth and recreation services. Warren did not provide specifics, but said the move would be part of a series of reforms planned for “the coming weeks, months and years.”

“We had a human being in a need of help, in need of compassion. In that moment we had an opportunity to protect him, to keep him warm, to bring him to safety, to begin the process of healing him and lifting him up,” Warren said. “We have to own the fact that in the moment we did not do that.”

Warren did not provide specifics Sunday about how the crisis intervention team's move would change the policing of a person going through a mental health crisis. But she said the city will double the availability of mental health professionals and work with Rochester’s Commission on Racial and Structural Equity, or RASE, to re-envision the police department and how it responds to mental health crises.

“The chief and I, we love our city. We were born and raised here,” she said Sunday. “We are committed to making the necessary changes to make sure this community moves forward.”

Associated Press / NBC New York
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