ROCHESTER, NY – It was early June, a few days after George Floyd’s death, and cities across the country were bursting into protests against police brutality.
In Rochester, the roads were relatively quiet, but police and city officials were worried behind closed doors. Daniel Prude, a black man, died of suffocation in March when police officers placed his head in a hood and dropped him to the ground. The public was never told about the death, but it would change if police body camera footage of the encounter came out.
A deputy Rochester police chief wrote in an email to his boss, “We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the actions of the officers and expose the incident with the recent killings of unarmed black people by law enforcement . ” “This would simply be a false narrative, and could result in enmity and a potentially violent setback in this community.”
His advice was clear: do not release body camera footage to the Prud family lawyer. The police chief later replied: “I completely agree.”
The June 4 exchange was among a group of city documents released on Monday that showed Rochester officials keeping disturbing videos of the incident out of public view and the damage from Mr. Prude’s death Did everything in his power to stop.
Dozens of emails, police reports and internal reviews reveal a series of delays – from blaming an overworked employee’s backlog in processing videos citing hospital privacy laws – used in that mission.
The documents reveal how police attempted to frame the narrative in the early hours, playing Mr. Prude’s ability for danger and glaring at officers’ tactics, naked and hooded him, before he Stop breathing.
In a police report on the collision, marking a box for the “victim type”, an officer on the scene listed Mr Prud – who police believe broke a store window that night – Just as a “personal”. But another officer circled the word in a red pen and took out a note.
“Make him a suspect,” it read.
Mr. Prude’s death sparked daily protests in Rochester, as well as accusing his family of a cover-up. Earlier this month, the city’s mayor, Lovely Warren, suspended seven officers involved in the encounter.
The documents were contained in the 323-page internal review of Mr. Prude’s death and the city’s actions in the coming months. She cited the report, which she released on Monday, in her decision to fire Chief of Police, Lauren Singleri, two weeks before she stepped down.
Police found Mr Prude around 3am on March 23, seen naked on the street, with at least one witness that he had a coronavirus. Mr. Prude had just arrived at his brother’s house in Rochester, and seemed to be under the influence of the PCP, his brother told police.
The officers handcuffed him, but when Mr. Prude ignored orders to stop spitting, they put a hood over his head. He became agitated, and three officers pinned him, one heavy on Mr. Prude’s head. Mr. Prude’s arguments turned to noise and he stopped breathing. A week later, he was removed from the post of life guard.
In the report of his incident, officers described the encounter with Mr. Prude as peaceful until he began spitting and demanding a gun. After he was stopped by officers, he “threw up and then became unresponsive”, a police lieutenant wrote in an email four hours later.
An initial review of the incident ejected Officer Mark Vaughan, who prevented Mr. Prude’s head from using “a segmenting technique” until it “appeared to reduce pressure in the area.”
In fact, Officer Vaughan leaned heavily on Mr. Prude’s head, which lasted at least 68 seconds, a New York Times analysis of body camera footage showed. He trusted after Mr. Prud lost consciousness. Police officials later said that Mr. Prude suffered a drug overdose.
Mr. Prude’s brother, Joe Prud, and other family members immediately suspected that he had died. He contacted Elliot Shields, a lawyer who filed a legal notice on April 3, which forces the city to preserve evidence from the encounter, the precursor to a wrongful-death trial.
He also filed a demand under the state’s independence law that all documents and videos related to Mr. Prud’s arrest be handed over.
On April 10, the county medical examiner released his autopsy findings, describing Mr. Prude’s death as a murder from asphyxia, and noted the PCP in his system. Chief Singletary wrote a summary of the incident (“officers stabilized the person on the ground”) for the city’s communications director Justin Rose.
“The mayor has been in the loop,” the chief then wrote.
Mayor Warren has said that he was not told about Mr. Prude’s clash with authorities prior to his cardiac arrest – only that he had suffered a drug overdose.
As of April 21, the state attorney general’s office had informed local officials that it was investigating the death.
An internal report said Rochester police concluded after their investigation: “The officers’ actions and conduct were demonstrated when behavior with Prud appears to be appropriate and consistent.”
In late May, Mr. Shields, Prides’ attorney, began complying with his open records request, stating that the deadline for handing over the material had expired.
But authorities in Rochester were increasingly reluctant to eliminate him. On Memorial Day, Mr. Floyd died, and scenes of unrest spread throughout the country.
Deputy Chief Mark Simmons shared his concern with the public about the “setback”. He was not alone.
Police Lieutenant Michael E. Perkowski, city attorney Stephanie A. “I am very concerned about the premature release of everything that is going on in Rochester and around the country,” wrote Prince in an email. “I can go ahead, but it seems the Chief Minister’s office and the mayor’s office want a heads-up before this.”
Officials who wanted to keep the video away from the public appeared to find a convenient, if unlikely, means to do so: the Attorney General’s investigation. Mr. Simmons, Ms. Prince and others repeatedly suggested that the city not turn over Mr. Prude’s family records as the case was under investigation, a blanket exception to open records laws.
Mr Simmons raised the possibility in his email for the chief as “email based on the fact that the case is still active,” to deny the request for records as currently investigating potential criminal charges by the AG’s office Its being done.”
Ms. Prince made a similar strategy: The city prevented the general release of the videos by allowing an attorney for the Prud family to see them in a meeting with the attorney’s office, but was not allowed to keep her copies. She told others in an email on June 4 that the idea came from Jennifer Somaras, a state assistant attorney general.
“What her office typically does and what she has suggested for the case,” Ms. Prince wrote, is to invite an attorney for the Prud family to look at the case file in person, “provided that she reached an agreement. Agree to sign which he cannot scan / copy / otherwise try to reproduce the information. In this way, the AG is providing the file to the family lawyer, but we do not release anything to the public. are doing. “
She repeated the idea the next day: “As such, the city is not releasing anything related to the case for at least a month (more than 2), and it will not be publicly available.”
The Attorney General’s Office has denied any role in releasing the video. “The Prud family and the greater Rochester community deserve to respond, and we will continue to work around the clock to provide them,” State Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.
A meeting with the lawyer took place in June, and another, with Mr. Shields and members of the Prud family, took place in July. But Mr. Shields was unconvincing in his demands to get the video. The city pushed, citing the sensibility of Mr. Prude’s naked body images, noting his privacy as a patient who, in late July, for the lone employee reviewing body camera video ” There was a huge backlog of work “. Skip
Copies of the video were eventually released to Mr. Shields on August 12, More than four months after his request. The videos were mailed via the US Postal Service.
He released them to the public on 2 September. The response was the same as officials had feared, filling up the Rochester city blocks with protesters every night.
Deputy Chief, Mr. Simmons, who had requested not to release the video, was handed over to a lieutenant last week. Demotion did not last long: On Monday, he was named acting police chief.