The leadership of the Rochester, New York, police department resigned Tuesday, the city’s mayor informed the City Council, days after the New York state attorney general said she would impanel a grand jury to consider the circumstances surrounding the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died after officers placed him in a hood and pinned him to the ground during an arrest in late March. The city’s police chief, La’Ron Singletary, and two deputies resigned; another deputy chief and commander were both demoted, the mayor said. The Prude family has accused the police of engaging in a cover-up of the 41-year-old’s death after being taken into custody while he was experiencing mental health issues. Seven officers were suspended last week, though the police chief and the city’s mayor, Lovely Warren, denied the death was covered up.
The facts of the case, however, indicate otherwise. Prude died in the hospital on March 30 a week after officers took him into custody, but the Rochester Police Department classified the death as a drug overdose and the police chief informed the mayor that Prude had died in the hospital after taking the drug PCP. The coroner’s report, however, designated Prude’s death as a homicide, resulting from asphyxiation while held in a prone position. It wasn’t until five months later that the police disclosed much of anything about Prude’s death, finally bowing to a public records request by his family. When the police body camera footage was released, it caused national outrage: The officers surrounded Prude, who was naked and handcuffed, and held him facedown in the street until he stopped breathing.
Prude had been experiencing mental health problems since arriving at his brother’s house in Rochester a day before his arrest. He had been admitted to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation and ultimately fled from his brother’s home, prompting his family to call the police for help. Officers found Prude naked and ranting and handcuffed him without incident. After being subdued, while sitting naked in the street, Prude began spitting at officers, prompting them to try to pull a mesh hood over his head. At that point, one officer “put both his hands on the side of Mr. Prude’s head and pushed down with his full body weight—essentially in a triangle push-up or ‘tripod’ position,” a civil lawsuit filed by the family states. “The body-worn camera recordings show that [the officer] remains in this position—pushing his full body weight down on Mr. Prude’s head—for over two minutes and 15 seconds.”
In announcing the departures of the police officials, the mayor described the exits as “retirements.” “The entire Rochester Police Department command staff has announced their retirement,” Warren said. “The chief was not asked to give his resignation because I do believe he is giving his very best. … He has dedicated 20 years to this city and the citizens of Rochester and feels that the events that have happened were not done in a way that, you know, could’ve been handled differently, but he didn’t, in any way, try to cover this up.”