Former Rochester, N.Y., police chief La’Ron Singletary is appearing before Rochester City Council members on Friday as part of its investigation into the death of Daniel Prude last year.
Prude, a Black man with a history of mental illness, died of asphyxiation after an encounter with officers with the Rochester Police Department in March. However, details surrounding his death did not come to light for about six months, sparking allegations of a cover-up and igniting protests calling for justice and police accountability.
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Prude’s death has been ruled a homicide by the Monroe County medical examiner.
Singletary’s testimony comes at a particularly tense time for the city, as Rochester has been thrust into the national spotlight following another police encounter, this time involving a nine-year-old girl.
The child, who is Black and has not been named, was handcuffed, placed into a police squad car and pepper sprayed as she called out repeatedly for her father. The incident on Jan. 29 also sparked protests in the city this week, though not as large as the demonstrations last year as details of Prude’s death became known.
City officials announced this week that three officers involved in the pepper spray incident have been removed from patrol duties. During the department’s investigation, two officers have been placed on administrative leave, and the other officer has been suspended.
Singletary is giving testimony before the city council’s Independent Investigation Special Committee, which council members Michael Patterson and Malik Evans preside over.
Evans, a Democrat, announced last month he was running for mayor against incumbent Lovely Warren. The mayor, a Democrat, has faced sustained criticism for her administration’s handling of Prude’s death and is facing criminal charges of campaign finance violations.
She’s entered a not guilty plea to the charges, and resisted calls for her resignation.
The New York Attorney General’s office is also conducting a separate investigation into Prude’s death.
Warren fired Singletary in September, days after he said he and the entire Rochester Police Department command staff were planning to resign from the post as protests over Prude’s death grew.
“The chief was not asked to give his resignation, because I do believe he is giving his very best,” Warren said of Singletary as she announced he was stepping down. Warren had promoted him to police chief in April 2019.
Before Singletary was terminated, attorneys for the Prude family released police video of his encounter with police.
Prude’s brother had called 911 to report he was missing and experiencing a mental health crisis.
“Daniel was very charismatic,” Joe Prude told NPR’s Morning Edition in September. “He was a good dude all the way around. He was down to earth, a good generous man at heart.”
He said his brother left the house in below-freezing temperatures, wearing only long johns and a tank top. He said Prude was having suicidal thoughts and had just been released from Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital.
Joe Prude added that he called police because he was concerned about his brother’s safety.
When police encountered Prude, he was naked and there are reports that he had contracted the coronavirus. Officers handcuffed him and placed a mesh covering over his head, known as a “spit hood,” to prevent him from spitting and biting.
Officers then held his head to the ground, and Prude died several days later.