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Rochester Attorney Starts Petition: ‘Justice for Lawrence Rogers’

Patti Singer

Lawrence Rogers died in 2002 after an encounter with Rochester police. Rochester attorney Van White started a petition to call for a criminal investigation. Provided by Van White

At about 8:30 p.m. Aug. 31, 2002, Lawrence Rogers had an encounter with Rochester Police in the parking lot of the former Wegmans on Dewey and Driving Park avenues.

According to a subsequent lawsuit, Rogers sustained numerous cuts and bruises, severe pain and mental anguish, significant respiratory trauma, suffocation and death.

The lawsuit named the city, the police department, four officers, Rochester General Hospital and Rural Metro Ambulance.

Rogers’ estate received a settlement. According to the attorney on the case, the family didn’t necessarily get justice.

Now that the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and the announcement of the death of Daniel Prude in Rochester in March have led to criminal investigations, the attorney in the Rogers’ case is seeking the same thing.

Van Henri White on Sept. 4 launched a petition that calls for Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and the U.S. Attorney General to open an investigation into Rogers’ death and if appropriate, prosecute those responsible under a charge of second-degree murder.

As of midday Sept. 7, about 50 people had signed the petition.

“I’ve never forgotten about him,” White said. “Each time I read of something that happens … I would think about Lawrence Rogers.”

White said that until communities rose up in reaction to deaths of Floyd and Prude, he believed there was nothing more he could do.

“Certainly people of color and people of good will have never tolerated this sort of thing,” White said. “But it became a question of whether our articulation of our intolerance for it could move the people who actually and exclusively have the authority to prosecute police officers who abuse people. … The community became more powerful in its capacity to move elected (officials) to do something.”

Basically, he said, community expectations for how to react have changed.

White said that at the time, he contacted the Monroe County District Attorney office and requested a criminal investigation. White said an investigation did not materialize.

According to the petition, evidence exists about the encounter and there is no statute of limitations on murder. White said he has nothing financially to gain from a criminal investigation, and he has been asked why people would care about a case that’s nearly 20 years old.

“Because 20 years from now people will be happy that people will be appreciative of the fact that people cared about how Daniel Prude died. It may prevent someone else’s death.”

White said a criminal investigation also would be about the rule of law and that Rogers is entitled to justice.

“One of those laws and rules is that when someone dies, we do our due diligence. That’s what justice is. It’s due diligence. That doesn’t mean there’s going to be an indictment. We do what we’re doing with Daniel Prude.”

White said there are parallels in the deaths of Rogers and Prude.

Each man showed signs of emotional distress and each was detained under a mental hygiene arrest. Each man was in a position where he was face down for a period of time with officers applying pressure to maintain that position. Each man had his breathing impeded.

But the difference, according to White, is why he started the petition.

“There will be people, like with me and the case of Lawrence Rogers, who will say the civil resolution is not enough. I say that with some degree of validity because my client never got a criminal investigation.”