By MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News
(ROCHESTER, N.Y.) — An independent investigation into the city of Rochester’s response to the death of Daniel Prude nearly one year ago determined that officials “suppressed” information and lied.
Prude, 41, was restrained by Rochester police officers in March 2020 during a mental health emergency. His death a week later, of complications from asphyxia after he was taken off life support, was ruled a homicide by the the Monroe County medical examiner.
The incident became widely known after his family released body-worn camera footage of the arrest in September that showed Prude appearing to go unconscious while he is being pinned to the ground, sparking protests and calls for reform. Former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary was fired amid criticism over the handling of Prude’s death, and the seven officers involved in the arrest were suspended.
According to the independent investigation, which was commissioned by Rochester’s city council and released Friday, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren lied at a Sept. 2 press conference when she said she didn’t learn of the arrest until August. She spoke with Singletary about it on March 23, the day it happened, according to the report.
The investigation also determined that Singletary “disclosed but consistently deemphasized the role of police restraints in the death of Daniel Prude, and his statements did not capture the disturbing tenor of the entire encounter.”
“Chief Singletary’s characterization of the Prude arrest likely impacted how the city officials he informed of the matter viewed what had occurred,” the report stated.
Senior police department officials expressed concerns about releasing the footage in June, according to the report, due to ongoing protests against the police killing of fellow unarmed Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis the prior month.
Investigators also found that city counsel “actively discouraged” the mayor from publicly disclosing the arrest in early August, after she first saw the body camera footage, “citing reasons that were factually incorrect, legally without basis, or both.”
ABC News reached out to the mayor’s office, city counsel and Singletary’s attorney for comment.
In a statement to Rochester ABC affiliate WHAM, Warren said, “I welcome today’s report because it allows our community to move forward.”
She pointed to reforms in the wake of Prude’s death, including the creation of Person In Crisis teams, changing the city’s Freedom of Information Law and body-worn camera processes and “calling for the right to fire officers for cause.”
In comments to WHAM, Carrie Cohen, counsel to the city of Rochester during the independent investigation, challenged the report’s finding that Warren made untrue statements to the public.
“At all times, Mayor Warren spoke based on the facts known to her at the time and to the extent those facts were misleading in any way, that is a direct result of the misleading way in which former Chief Singletary relayed information to the Mayor,” Cohen said.
Cohen also charged that Singletary “intentionally obscured” information on the case provided to city officials.
“It is most notable that the City Council’s Special Counsel did not find any evidence that any city employee, outside of former Police Chief Singletary, acted with ill-intent to hide or cover-up the circumstances related to the death of Mr. Prude or to intentionally deceive the public in any way,” she said.
Malik Evans, a city councilman and mayoral candidate, said the investigation does “little to restore confidence” in government.
“The report makes clear that this tragedy was compounded by the fact information related to Daniel Prude’s death was not handled in an open and transparent manner,” he said in a statement. “I share the community’s frustration that there was almost a five-month delay before they and all City Council Members received any information on this tragedy.”
The delay in the release of the video resulted in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office implementing a new policy in which body camera footage will now be released earlier in the investigation process.
The Rochester Police Department is conducting an internal investigation of the case. The officers involved in the incident remain on leave pending its outcome.
Last month, a grand jury declined to bring criminal charges against any of the officers.
In announcing the grand jury vote, James’ office released a comprehensive report on its investigation into Prude’s death “to provide maximum transparency into the case.”
Earlier this week, attorneys for Prude’s five children filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Rochester and at least six police officers.
“His family sought help from the Rochester police, and that was a mistake — a fatal mistake,” the complaint stated. “Instead of providing him with care and assistance, officers of the Rochester Police Department cruelly abused him, mocked him, and killed him.”
Lawyers representing several of the suspended officers have said they were following their mandated training.
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