The former police chief of Rochester, New York said Friday he didn’t see anything “egregious” or any criminal conduct from police officers when he first watched body camera video of the incident that led to the death of a Black man in the city in March 2020.
La’Ron Singletary, who was fired in mid-September a few days after announcing his resignation, testified in a virtual deposition to an independent investigator from a law firm hired by the city to investigate how the case was handled.
“I told the Mayor there was no strikes, there was no punches,” said Singletary, referring to the death of Daniel Prude. “It appeared there was nothing egregious at that particular point in time. Again, that was a preliminary assessment.”
Prude, a 41-year-old Black man was having a mental health emergency on March 23, 2020 when officers covered his head with a “spit sock” and held him on the ground in a prone position before he stopped breathing. He was declared brain dead and died a week later.
Attorneys for his family released the police body camera video of the encounter in September, sparking daily protests in Rochester. The long-delayed announcement of the death led to accusations of a cover-up.
He said he told Mayor Lovely Warren on March 23 what had happened during the attempted arrest, but Warren never asked to see the video.
Singletary testified to attorney Andrew Celli, whose firm was granted subpoena power by the Rochester City Council to investigate the handling of the Prude case.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Warren, Maisha Beard, said the former chief downplayed what happened to Prude and the mayor didn’t see what actually occurred until she watched the video August 4.
“Mayor Warren believes we need to move forward with honoring Daniel Prude, and all the past victims of police violence, by doing the necessary work to reform policing and achieve equity in Rochester,” Beard said in a statement on behalf of the Mayor.
The former police chief said that because he didn’t see anything criminal in the video of the incident, he never thought to remove the officers from patrol. However, Singletary did testify that officers did cause the death of Prude.
Singletary said even after Prude died, it still didn’t occur to him to notify the public about the incident. He testified that the death of George Floyd in May concerned him because he felt that releasing information on Prude could lead to violence in Rochester.
The release in September of more than 300 pages of internal emails, police reports and other documents by the city showed a concerted effort by police and city officials to delay the release of incriminating body camera footage in the death.
In one police incident report, among many edits, some prosaic, Prude’s name is written in the space labeled “Victim.” Prude’s name is circled in red, next to a large, handwritten note: “Make him a suspect.”
Prude’s death was ruled a homicide by the Monroe County medical examiner, whose report cited complications of asphyxia in a setting of physical restraint. The report also cited excited delirium and acute PCP intoxication as causes.
Prude’s sister filed a federal lawsuit against Singletary, 13 other officers and the city in upstate New York, alleging in part a department cover-up of the death. The suit said Prude was suffering an “acute manic, psychotic episode” at the time of the attempted arrest.
The Mayor suspended seven officers with pay who were involved in the incident.