Recently released documents, including internal e-mails and police reports show that Rochester, New York, and city officials attempted to deliberately delay the release of the horrific body camera footage showing the death of Daniel Prude, who died from asphyxiation after police put a spit hood over his head.
According to CNN, the city released some 325 pages of documents on Monday, detailing the extent to which officials went to try to control the narrative around Prude’s death. To that end, even though Elliot Shields, an attorney representing Prude’s brother, filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the damning footage on April 3, the video never surfaced until August 12.
In e-mails sent around the time that the nation was reeling from the police killing of George Floyd, one police official suggested that it might be better to delay the release of the footage “considering what is going on around the country.”
“I’m wondering if we shouldn’t hold back on this for a little while considering what is going on around the country,” the official wrote in a June 4 e-mail to a city attorney that included then Chief La’Ron Singletary and current acting Chief Mark Simmons.
“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,” Simmons added. “I ask that we reach out to Corporation Council and ask them to deny the request based on the fact that the case is still active, as it is currently being investigated for possible criminal charges to be brought forth by the AG’s office.”
“I totally agree,” Singletary said.
The day the city released the documents, Singletary, who was supposed to retire at the end of the month, was booted from office abruptly.
“This initial look has shown what so many have suspected, that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department,” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said in a news release Monday, according to CNN. “One that views everything through the eyes of the badge and not the citizens we serve. It shows that Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who reviewed the case throughout city government at every level.”
In another e-mail dated June 3, Rochester Police Lt. Michael Perkowski noted that an attorney in the attorney general’s office “may be able to assist by allowing the plaintiff’s attorney to view the body-worn camera footage without releasing it, to buy some more time before we have to release this.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James swiftly moved to defend her office noting, “At no point over the course of this investigation did any member of the attorney general’s office instruct the city of Rochester or the Rochester Police Department to withhold information of any kind, period.”
“For weeks, the city and the police department have engaged in a deeply troubling and misleading campaign in an attempt to cover their tracks and shirk accountability, rather than focusing on the real problem at hand,” James added. “As we have done since April, our office will continue to work tirelessly and without distraction to provide the answers that the Prude family and Rochester community deserve.”
In addition to the e-mails, documents show that changes were made to at least two police reports about Prude’s death, according to CNN.
The reports were edited in red pencil, although it is not clear who made the handwritten edits or when they were made. What is clear is that in one of the reports Prude’s name was written in the space to label the “victim.” That, however was circled in the red pencil, before a note was added to “make him a suspect.”
A similar edit was made to another report, noting again in red pencil, “List Daniel Prude as [Suspect]…add burglary—video recorded during the day shows [suspect] break window & enter location.”
Last week, Daniel Prude’s sister, Tashyra Prude, filed a lawsuit against Rochester, Singletary and 13 other officers, accusing the defendants of a cover-up of her brother’s death.