Council attorney investigating Prude death asks: ‘Was there a coverup?'
Rochester City Council President Loretta Scott has begun to issue the first round of subpoenas for an investigation, initiated by Council, into the death of Daniel Prude.
The initial subpoenas were directed at Mayor Lovely Warren’s office, the Rochester Police Department, the city’s Law Department, and City Council itself. They were authorized unanimously by Council members during a brief meeting Friday. The members also authorized Scott and Vice President Willie Lightfoot to issue any subsequent subpoenas requested by Andrew Celli, the attorney leading the investigation.
Rochester City Council members on Tuesday voted unanimously to pay Celli’s firm up to $100,000 to conduct the investigation
During a news conference Friday, Celli said he’s effectively been charged with determining whether there was a coverup of the circumstances around Prude’s death at the hands of Rochester Police officers.
“There really are a number of ways to determine that,” Celli said during a video call with reporters on Friday. “Number one is determining a timeline of events so that we know exactly what happened and in what sequence. That’s our first mission.”
Beginning with the timeline, Celli said the investigation will then analyze what information was shared among members of city government, and what was then communicated to the public. It’s, ultimately, a search for inconsistencies of what was known at the time and what officials said.
“We have no agenda other than the truth, and a good investigation is going to take us where the evidence leads us,” Celli said. “This is not a gotcha investigation, we do not have anyone in our sights, we do not have a target, we are just trying to find out what really happened.”
Two members of Council, Malik Evans and Michael Patterson, have been appointed by Scott to serve as administrators of the investigation. They’ll have no authority over what subpoenas are issued, questions asked, or in the forming of the report.
Last week, Warren released a 325 page report compiled by Deputy Mayor James Smith that contained emails, police reports, and other documents relating to Prude’s death. She cited the report as her basis for firing Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and suspending two key department heads without pay.
“The Deputy Mayor’s report, to its credit, describes itself as a cursory review, essentially a pass looking at documents, and I think that’s a starting point,” Celli said. “We’re going to start from zero, we’re not going to rely on anything that anyone else did. We’re going to go to the primary documents.”
Celli, a Rochester native now based in Manhattan, is not new to working with city government. His firm, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, has represented City Council as it defends the creation of the Police Accountability Board.
Celli emphasized that his team will function autonomously from all levels of government. Also contributing to the investigation are Linda Kingsley, who served as the city’s counsel from 1994 to 2005, and Scout Katovich, an attorney with Celli’s firm who formerly worked with the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“To the great credit of this Council, they not only acknowledged, but insisted that their processes be questioned, interrogated, and investigated,” Celli said. “No one is off limits, their injunction to us what to get to the bottom of it.”
Celli said all steps of the investigation will be made public, including the final report, which he hopes to complete by the end of the year. He committed to making the first subpoenas public as they are issued through Monday.
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or firstname.lastname@example.org.