Fearing the certain backlash over the suffocation death of a handcuffed, unarmed Black man in their custody, Rochester police commanders pressed city officials to hold off on publicly releasing body camera footage amid nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd, according to municipal emails.
A lawyer for Daniel Prude’s family had asked for footage of the March 23 encounter that led to his death, but in a June 4 email to his boss, a deputy police chief cited the “current climate” in the city and the nation as a reason to deny the request.
“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,” Deputy Chief Simmons wrote. “That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blow back in this community as a result.”
“I totally agree,” Police Chief La’Ron Singletary wrote back, according to the emails.
Three months would pass before video was made public, by Prude’s family, and it showed a handcuffed and naked Prude with a “spit hood” over his head as an officer pushes his face against the ground, while another officer presses a knee to his back.
The officers held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. Prude, 41, died a week later after he was taken off life support.
Rochester cops found Prude wandering the street naked after police said he smashed a storefront window. Prude could be seen on body camera footage spitting in the direction of officers and claiming to be infected with coronavirus.
Seven police officers have been suspended for their involvement in Prude’s death. Singletary has been relieved of duty.
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has said she did not see the body camera footage until city lawyers played it for her on Aug. 4 and that Singletary initially misled her about the circumstances of Prude’s death.
“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.”
Floyd, 46, died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for more than eight minutes during a Memorial Day arrest. His death sparked peaceful and violent protests across the country and sparked a police reform movement.
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