Mayor Warren: Chief Singletary out, city’s communication director, lawyer suspended, review underway

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced Monday an internal review of the Daniel Prude death investigation, the end of the police chief’s tenure, and the suspension of high-ranking city employees.

The mayor said that Police Chief La’Ron Singletary’s last day in the position is Monday. Last week Singletary announced his retirement, along with several other senior members of the Rochester Police Department command staff. Singletary’s last day was supposed to be September 29.

MORE | Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, more RPD command staff retires in wake of Daniel Prude death

City officials later clarified that Deputy Chief Mark Simmons would become Acting Chief of Police for the next 30 days. With RPD’s command-staff shake-up last week, it was announced that Simmons would return to the previously held rank of lieutenant.

The mayor also said during a briefing with City Council last week that she would seek an interim chief to hold the position until June 2021.

Mayor Warren also announced that City of Rochester Communications Director Justin Roj has been suspended without pay. The mayor added that Tim Curtin, City’s Corporation Counsel, is also suspended without pay. The mayor said Roj and Curtin were suspended for “failure to act, inform, and follow policy and procedures.”

The Office of Public Integrity has been instructed to initiate a thorough investigation to see if any city employees, including Mayor Warren, violated policies over the handling of Prude’s death and his civil rights.

Mayor Warren’s Monday press conference

Rochester City Council issued a statement Monday in regards to the Mayor’s announcement, noting the Council first found out about the Mayor’s intention when she announced them publicly, and that the Council would still be conducting its own investigation. The statement said in part:

“The Council only learned of this investigation, its contents, and subsequent measures proposed by the Mayor when announced at this afternoon’s press conference. While we appreciate the Mayor’s desire to have the City’s Office of Public Integrity look into this matter, we understand the importance of having a review conducted by a separate branch of Government with independent legal counsel. We will review information related to the Deputy Mayor’s report and findings, and share them.”

Communications Director Roj issued this statement Monday:

A note from paragraph two in the statement above raises a question regarding an earlier sentiment from City Hall regarding the handling of the Prude case.

“Currently as a matter of policy, the City does not comment on active criminal investigations or release information regarding such. The rationale is that the release of such information of commentary could interfere with law enforcement’s investigation.”

City of Rochester officials previously said that the City didn’t comment on the Prude death publicly at the urging of the New York State Attorney General’s office. The AG’s office has repeatedly denied those claims. City of Rochester officials said Monday evening that both are true: That it’s city policy to not comment on an ongoing criminal investigation, and that the attorney general’s office did request they withhold comment.

MORE | Prude death investigation: Attorney General’s office says one thing, Mayor’s office says another

The mayor said Monday that the public should have had more information, earlier, regarding Prude’s death.

“I have directed the deputy mayor to initiative an internal management review of the city handling of the mental hygiene arrest and subsequent death of Daniel Prude,” Mayor Warren said. “Frankly the public should have been informed of Mr. Prude’s death and the circumstances that led to his death in March, and after seeing the video, I should have conducted a formal review.

“This initial look has shown that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department, one that views everything through the eyes of the badge and not the citizens we serve,” Mayor Warren said. “I have apologized to the Prude family and this community for the failures that have happened along the way, including my own as mayor. Never again can we allow any man or woman to needlessly die in police custody.”

The mayor also called for a federal review of the Prude case.

“I am requesting the U.S. Attorney’s Office to conduct an investigation into the possible violations of Mr. Prudes civil rights,” Mayor Warren said. “This tragic loss of life has shown that we have systematic failures. We have to acknowledge these failures and put in place these forms that create transparency. We will regroup in a few days when I will answer any questions you have given the documents you will receive today.”

The mayor did not answer questions from media following her announcement Monday.

Daniel Prude preliminary report

Prude file notes

Page 66: RPD Professional Standards Section review of the Prude encounter with police says: “No evidence to suggest any misconduct and/or misjudgment on the part of the involved officers.”

Page 73: Police report from the incident has Daniel Prude’s name circled with a note that says: “Make him a suspect.”

Page 105: In an email dated April 10, 2020 from Chief Singletary to Communications Director Roj, chief says “The Mayor has been in the loop on such since 3/23. Law is in the loop. I am just waiting for the Mayor to call me back to give her the update on the M.E.’s ruling.”

The mayor has said that she knew nothing of the Prude death investigation from his passing on March 30, until seeing the body camera footage on August 4 for the first time.

Correspondence from Mayor Warren doesn’t appear in this document until page 308, in an August 4th email draft to Chief Singletary in which she responds to the chief in what she saw in the video body camera footage. This despite multiple Rochester police officials requesting the mayor’s input in a June 4th email chain, beginning on page 201, but nothing directly to or from the mayor is included in that section of the file.

It should be noted that this preliminary investigation was made public through the mayor’s office Monday and that City Council still intends to use its subpoena power for a complete and independent review.

Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago, died after an encounter with Rochester police back in March, but news of the incident just came to light on September 2, and now the case is being investigated by the New York State Attorney General’s Office.

MORE | WATCH: Footage of encounter between Daniel Prude and Rochester police officers before his death

The autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death of Prude a homicide. The report says Prude’s cause of death includes “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” The report also showed that Prude also had a small amount of PCP in his system at the time of his death, which could explain his erratic behavior.

Seven Rochester police officers have been suspended with pay in connection to the incident: Officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.

Protests have been ongoing in Rochester since the news broke September 2.

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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