The Rochester, N.Y., police department’s chief and two deputy chiefs announced Tuesday that they were retiring from their positions after a long weekend of scrutiny over the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died in police custody in March.
Mayor Lovely Warren announced at a City Council meeting that Chief La’Ron Singletary would be retiring after 34 years on the force. In a letter, Singletary said he would “not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character.”
“The events over the past week are an attempt to destroy my character and integrity,” wrote Singletary. “The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for. The mischaracterization and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not based on facts, and is not what I stand for.”
Deputy Chiefs Joe Morabito and Mark Simmons also retired, vacating the three leadership positions for the department. City Council President Loretta C. Scott told News10NBC that Singletary would stay on until Sept. 28.
Activists had called for Singletary’s resignation since video was released last week of the death of Prude, a 41-year-old mentally ill man who suffered asphyxiation while in police custody. In the 88 minutes of video, taken March 23, Prude did not appear to offer physical resistance to the officers on the scene. He was naked when officers cuffed him and placed him on the ground.
As he became agitated, however, Prude spat at the officers, who placed him in a “spit hood,” which covered his head and face, and pushed him facedown onto the pavement.
Protests erupted after the release of the police bodycam video.
Free the People Roc, the activist group that has been working closely with the Prude family, said it welcomes the resignations.
“Our movement for justice is winning, and it’s because of this incredible community, showing up night after night,” the organization said in a statement. “Let’s keep the pressure up until all those responsible for Daniel Prude’s murder and cover up — including Mayor Lovely Warren — have resigned, taken responsibility, and donated their pensions to the families they allowed to be harmed. Together we have the ability to hold those in power accountable and bring an end to systemic police violence in our community.”
Members of the Rochester City Council blamed the police department for its violent response to peaceful protesters.
“It was very peaceful when it was over on Jefferson Avenue, where the killing occurred,” City Council member Mary Lupien told Yahoo News on Friday. “When it moved to the Public Safety Building, that’s when the police came out in militaristic force, and I was actually there and saw the escalation when they were really macing and pepper-spraying for no apparent reason and instigating the crowd, which escalated the situation.
“I was there around 10:45 last night, just on the side, filming and observing,” Lupien continued. “And when they started shooting the crowd with pepper balls, I turned around to walk away and was shot in the back.”
Warren has also faced scrutiny, waiting until last week to announce that the seven officers involved would be suspended with pay and claiming that she did not become aware of the incident until Aug. 4. Singletary had said he planned to stay on in the post, and Warren had expressed her support, saying Sunday, “I do not believe there’s another person more dedicated to changing the culture of policing than La’Ron.”
Members of the community were critical of the department for concealing the incident when discussions of police reform were broached during the protests that followed George Floyd’s death in May.
“At our budget hearing about two months ago, the community had been asking — after the killing of George Floyd — to cut the police budget, and the mayor and police chief all made statements to the effect of, ‘We don’t have these kind of problems here. We’re ahead of the curve, we’re not Minneapolis,’ all the while knowing that this had happened,” Lupien said. “It was shocking to the community to find out that it had been kept secret for so long and to really not have the mayor or police chief give adequate answers as to why.”
On Saturday, New York state Attorney General Letitia James announced she would form a grand jury and conduct an “exhaustive investigation” into Prude’s death.
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