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Rochester police chief, other high-ranking officials retire amid inquiry into man’s death in custody

Late in the evening on Sept. 4, protesters took to the streets of Rochester, N.Y., calling for justice for Daniel T. Prude. (Video: The Washington Post)
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ROCHESTER — The police chief and other high-ranking officials in this city’s 850-officer department have left their jobs amid controversy over the death of Daniel Prude while in police custody in March, the mayor announced to the city council Tuesday at what was slated to be a virtual briefing about police relations with protesters.

“The entire command staff has decided to retire,” Mayor Lovely Warren said in a meeting that was being conducted on Zoom. The meeting was adjourned shortly after the announcement.

Experts say Rochester police failed to use tactics designed to help those in crisis as union defends officers involved in death of Black man

The city’s handling of Prude’s death during a failed crisis intervention with the Rochester Police Department has drawn widespread scrutiny and has made national headlines as one in a string of unarmed Black men who have died while interacting with police in numerous cities. Prude was seen on body camera video naked and acting erratically as police handcuffed him. Police threw a hood over his head to serve as a spit guard — a move that was ultimately determined to have led to his death.

Police Chief La’Ron Singletary has appeared by the mayor’s side in recent days, and although Warren criticized him for failing to inform city officials of the use of force in the encounter at the time of the arrest, she also said she had no plans to fire him.

“As you all know, this has been very challenging times for the city of Rochester and the chief was not asked to give his resignation,” Warren told the council members, without elaborating.

Seven police officers were suspended in Rochester, N.Y., after a video showed police officers placing a hood on Daniel Prude, who later died. (Video: The Washington Post)

Singletary said in a news release that he is retiring after 20 years of service to the Rochester Police Department due to how he has been treated in recent days as a result of revelations about Prude’s treatment and death. Singletary said broadly that he has viewed some outside criticism as personal attacks and “mischaracterization” of the truth.

“As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character,” Singletary said in the statement. “The events over the past week are an attempt to destroy my character and integrity. The members of the Rochester Police Department and the greater Rochester community know my reputation and know what I stand for. The mischaracterization and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not based on facts, and is not what I stand for.”

Deputy Chief Joseph Morabito also announced his retirement Tuesday after nearly 34 years of service to the department, though he did not address the Prude investigation in his statement. He said being a part of the Rochester Police Department is “one of the proudest achievements” of his lifetime.

Commander Fabian Rivera also announced his retirement. Another deputy chief, Mark Simmons, is returning to a previous rank of lieutenant, as is Commander Henry Favor, according to a police department news release.

Warren said Tuesday evening that Singletary plans to remain in charge of the department through the end of September and said that “while the timing and tenor of these resignations is difficult, we have faced tough times before. We will get through this together.”

She said that she wanted to “assure this community that I am committed to instituting the reforms necessary in our Police Department,” and that she has spoken to police leaders about “maintaining our restraint regarding the ongoing protests” and she asked “all involved to remain peaceful.”

Antonio Romanucci, attorney for Daniel Prude’s children, said in a state Tuesday that the police chief’s departure is “an important and necessary step to healing and meaningful reform” in the Rochester community.

“Clearly, the conduct of the officers in Mr. Prude’s case was inhumane, and the subsequent coverup was unacceptable,” Romanucci said. “We look forward to securing justice for Mr. Prude and to having Rochester leaders do the hard work needed to address issues of systemic racism and training protocols in the police department.”

Seven RPD officers have been suspended amid an ongoing investigation into Prude’s death, and the New York state attorney general has convened a grand jury. There have been nightly Black Lives Matter protests here since last week, when the body cam footage of the incident was released by Prude’s family.