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Mayor’s Office, Law Department, RPD and City Council Receive Subpoenas in Independent Investigation

Patti Singer

Protesters with Black Lives Matter stand outside Rochester City Hall Sept. 15, 2020. An independent investigation has started into what city officials knew about the death of Daniel Prude. File photo.

The mayor’s office, the city’s law department, the Rochester Police Department and City Council were served Sept. 21 with subpoenas “to produce books, papers or other evidence” in an independent investigation launched by City Council into the city’s response to the death of Daniel Prude.

The time frame covers from March 23, 2020 – which is when Daniel Prude encountered police — to when the documents are returned.

City Council authorized the investigation, a fee of up to $100,000 and hired the law firm of Emery, Celli, Brinkerhoff, Abady, Ward and Maazel LLP of New York City. The investigation is being led by Andrew Celli Jr. The firm also is working on behalf of City Council on its appeal of ruling concerning the Police Accountability Board.

City Council President Loretta Scott said that to ensure independence, council set up a two-person committee of Michael Patterson and Malik Evans to serve an administrative function. Celli said he will not update council during the investigation.

The subpoenas are sweeping.

The people covered include all employees, officers and agents. In the case of the mayor’s office, that includes Lovely Warren and all offices, bureaus, officers and employees within that office as defined by the City Charter. The law department includes the corporation counsel and all employees, officers and agents.

The subpoenas also define the incident involving Daniel Prude to include the events that started the contact with him; investigations by any local; state or federal agency into RPD’s contact with him; and public disclosure of all actions relating to contact with him, his subsequent death, or the investigation and disclosure of those actions.

The definition of documents includes handwritten or electronic and include records of phone calls, summaries of in-person conversations, body worn camera footage; material from any internal affairs file; drafts; press releases; advertisements, comments made in margins; and “all other writings.”

The purpose, as Celli said when council authorized the subpoena power, was to determine a timeline of event and learn how people in government communicated with each other and with the public about the facts and when they learned that information.

The subpoenas list 17 categories of documents. The list includes all documents concerning the incident; RPD response to the 911 call and calls to and from officers; all reports related to the death; RPD policies and procedures about use of force and medical care for persons in custody; includes all communications involving RPD’s La’Ron Singletary, Mark Simmons, Joseph Morabito, Steven Swetman; all communications between the RPD and the Mayor’s Office, between the RPD and the Law Department, between the RPD and the Locust Club, between the RPD and the Monroe County Office of the Medical Examiner concerning the incident.

The subpoenas also have a list of 11 instructions, including how to submit the requested documents and what to do if the entity objects. “Questions regarding the interpretation of these requests should be resolved in favor of the broadest possible construction,” the instructions state.

While the deadline to submit document is Oct. 2, the instructions state, “This request is a continuing one.”  If an entity finds more documents or if other information would clarify or add to information, those documents have to be supplied.

At a news conference announcing that subpoenas would be issued, Celli left open the possibility of having people testify under oath.

He has said he expects to issue a report in three months.