Rochester police leaders advised city officials to hold off on publicly launching body cam video footage of Daniel Prude’s suffocation since they feared violent blowback if the video came out during nationwide demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd, freshly released emails reveal.
Deputy Chief Mark Simmons pointed out the “present environment” in the city and the nation in a June 4 email recommending then-Chief La’ ron Singletary to press the city’s legal representatives to reject a Prude family legal representative’s public records ask for the video of the March 23 encounter that led to his death.
The video, lastly revealed by Prude’s family on Sept. 4, reveals Prude handcuffed and naked with a spit hood over his head as an officer pushes his face to the ground, while another officer presses a knee to his back. The officers held him down for about two minutes till he stopped breathing. He was taken off life support a week later on.
“We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions and conflate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationally,” Simmons wrote. “That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blow back in this community as a result.”
The Western New York released the e-mails, police reports and other documents on Monday as Mayor Lovely Warren fired Singletary and suspended Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin and Communications Director Justin Roj without pay for one month in the middle of continuing fallout from Prude’s death. Simmons was named interim chief of the police department.
Simmons’ email looking to have the city deny the Freedom of Infomation Law demand echoed e-mails from other cops officials stressed over releasing video of the March 23 encounter as demonstrators were taking to the streets of Rochester and elsewhere to protest Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis and other authorities killings of Black people.
Lt. Mike Perkowski told a city legal representative on June 4 that he was “extremely concerned about releasing this prematurely in light of what is going on” and Capt. Frank Umbrino told another police authorities “any release of details should be in combination with and collaborated with the Mayor and the Chief as it effectively have some intense ramifications.”
Simmons forwarded both emails to Singletary with his message encouraging the chief to have the Prude family legal representative’s public records request denied, according to the documents launched Monday. Simmons recommended that the city reject the demand since the case was still under investigation by the state attorney general of the United States’s office.
” I completely agree,” Singletary responded, according to the e-mails.
Later June 4, as discussion of the records demand continued, city lawyer Stephanie Prince informed Curtin of a method to buy more time: permitting the attorney general of the United States’s office to show the family the video, as it has carried out in other cases, but not give them a copy of it.
” By doing this, the City is not launching anything referring to the case for at least a month (more like 2), and it will not be publicly available,” Prince wrote.
Warren preserves that she did not see the body camera footage up until city attorneys played it for her on Aug. 4 and that Singletary at first misled her about the situations of Prude’s death.
After seeing the video, Warren emailed Singletary that she was “outraged” at the conduct of the officer who pushed Prude’s head versus the ground, Mark Vaughn, and that he ought to deal with an immediate disciplinary examination.
In an unsent draft of that email, Warren excoriated Singletary for having “grossly underplayed” Prude’s death by very first describing it to her a drug overdose. In the draft, prepared with Deputy Mayor James Smith’s assistance, Warren said she highly believed Vaughn needs to be fired and that she would have requested Vaughn’s termination in March, had she seen the video footage then. She suspended Vaughn and 6 other officers recently.
“Quite frankly, I would have expected the Chief of Police to have shown me this video in March,” Warren wrote in the draft. The toned down version sent to Singletary did not include that criticism.
“I should have known. Everyone is right. I should have known,” Warren told WHEC-TV on Tuesday. “But this incident — an unfortunate and tragic situation — had been downplayed from the very beginning as a PCP overdose.”
The City board voted Tuesday night to repeal its choice to develop a brand-new $16 million police station, WHEC-TV reported.
Singletary revealed his retirement last week as part of a major shakeup of the city’s police management however had actually planned to remain on through the end of the month. In revealing his retirement Sept. 8, the outgoing chief accused critics of trying to “destroy my character and integrity.”
Prude’s death has actually sparked almost 2 weeks of nightly demonstrations and requires Warren’s resignation. His family has submitted a federal lawsuit declaring the police department sought to conceal the true nature of Prude’s death.