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Tuesday 29 September 2020
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Warren: ‘As Mayor, I Own These Failures’

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announces reforms after Deputy Mayor James Smith, right, gave her a report about how officials handled the death of Daniel Prude. Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Mayor Lovely Warren has directed the city’s Office of Public Integrity to investigate whether any employees – including herself – violated city or departmental policies or ethics in the aftermath of the death of Daniel Prude.

Warren also relieved Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary of his command, effective immediately. Singletary was scheduled to retire on Sept. 29. Other members of the command staff also announced their retirements or are stepping down into previously held positions. It was not clear whether that took effect right away.

Deputy Chief Mark Simmons, who is returning to the rank of lieutenant, will serve as acting chief for the next 30 days, according to a city spokesman. Simmons served as interim chief before Singletary was hired in April 2019.

The announcements came Sept. 14 as Warren released a voluminous management review conducted by Deputy Mayor James Smith of the handling of the mental hygiene arrest of Daniel Prude and subsequent actions taken by members of the Rochester Police Department and city employees.

Corporation counsel Tim Curtin and communications director Justin Roj have been suspended without pay for 30 days.

Less than half an hour before Warren’s announcement, she, Singletary and Curtin were on a videoconference briefing with City Council about RPD response to the protests in the previous four nights. Curtin was sitting next to the mayor. There was no indication at the mayor’s news conference about whether he knew he was being suspended.

“I have apologized to the Prude family and this community for the failures that happened along the way, including my own,” Warren said. “As mayor, I own these failures. And as mayor, I have an obligation, once identified to do everything to fix them.”

In addition to having the Office of Public Integrity start an investigation, Warren is making seven other recommendations based on the report:

  • Request that the U.S. Attorney General’s Office conduct an investigation in possible violations of Daniel Prude’s civil rights.
  • Have outside agencies review all training manuals, regulations and general orders that govern the conduct of RPD officers.
  • Request that the U.S. Department of Justice review the RPD, including body worn camera footage for use of force arrests over the past three years and make the findings public.
  • Have an outside agency review the city’s Freedom of Information Law process with and objective of greater openness.
  • Get clarification and written guidance on the release of public information during criminal investigations conducted by the state attorney general.
  • Enact a policy whereby the mayor and police chief immediately announce initiations of all criminal investigations or arrests of an RPD officer.
  • Involve the Commission on Race and Structural Equity to get the public involved in reforming RPD, City Hall and other institutions to remove the pervasive culture of insularity.

Warren did not take questions, saying she would meet with the media after giving reporters time to digest the 31 sections and more than 100 pages.

Smith reviewed the timeline from March 23, 2020, when officers encountered the 41-year-old on Jefferson Avenue after his brother had called 911 because he was concerned he might harm himself.

Read the report at www.cityofrochester.gov/rpdreformrelease91420/

Smith’s review was expedited, and so it is based on largely on email trails and other documents. It does not include information from interviews or subpoenas, such as those of 911 calls and dispatch recordings and cell phone records. Smith wrote that he “personally would err on the side of disclosing versus withholding information.” Redactions were limited to phone numbers, addresses and personal emails.

“This initial look has shown what so many have suspected, that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department,” Warren said. “One that views everything through the eyes of the badge and not the citizens we serve. It shows that Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who reviewed the case throughout city government at every level.”

The report contains emails from investigators to the command staff, some of which is known because the family released the information it obtained through Freedom of Information Law requests.

It also contains emails recounting the techniques used by officers at the scene and a memo to the commander of the Professional Standard Section that said “actions alone did not cause the secession (sic) of breathing on the part of Mr. Prude.”

The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, finding that asphyxiation was one of three contributing factors.

Among the documents is an email exchange between Warren and Singletary in which she expressed outrage at the conduct of Officer Mark Vaughn, which she said showed disregard for a person in distress.

There also is correspondence between the city’s legal department and Elliot Shields, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Prude family.

After the report was released, Shields wrote in an email that he was seeing some documents for the first time, despite having requested them in the April 3 Freedom of Information Law request. He said an April 10 email from Singletary to Roj that says the mayor and the law department are “in the loop” is “evidence that a coverup implicated officials at the highest levels of City Hall and the RPD.” He said it also demonstrates systemic problems in the department and the city’s “indifference to the department’s culture of lying about excessive force incidents to cover for the offending officers.”

The New York state Attorney General is reviewing the death, and City Council wants its own review. Shields wrote that he encourages the city to work with the attorney general, who he said “has proven herself as a leader for investigating systemic problems of police misconduct.”