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Former RPD chief: 'It never occurred to me to make Daniel Prude's death public'

Gino Fanelli/CITY file photo

Former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary testified Friday that he did not inform Mayor Lovely Warren that officers suffocated Daniel Prude, and that it never occurred to him that the circumstances of his death were something the public needed to know.

Singletary went on to say that he never had a conversation about publicly releasing information about Prude’s death with Warren or anyone in her administration, and that she reacted with horror and fury when she finally watched video footage of Prude's arrest for the first time in early August.

"She kept saying, 'What I saw in the video was murder,'" Singletary said.

The former chief spoke under oath during a public deposition Friday that began at 9:30 a.m. and continued into the early evening. His questioning was part of a City Council independent investigation into the death of Prude and was led by the chief investigator, lawyer Andrew Celli.

City Council live-streamed the deposition on its YouTube and Facebook channels and we carried the proceeding here.">

His testimony was largely in line with correspondence Singletary had with city officials that has previously been released by the Warren administration.

Nevertheless, his answers added some new color and context to the matter, and suggested a breakdown in communication between the Rochester Police Department and City Hall brass and laid bare how differently the chief and the mayor interpreted the circumstances of Prude's death.

Prude died last March, a week after he was restrained and suffocated by police. The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death a homicide due to "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint," with "excited delirium" brought on by PCP as a contributing factor.

The matter was kept from public view until September, when a lawyer for Prude’s family released video footage taken from body cameras worn by police officers who responded to the scene.">

Earlier in his testimony, Singletary said that during two phone calls with Warren on the day of the incident, she didn’t ask to see footage from the officers’ body-worn cameras and he didn’t suggest that she watch it. The mayor only watched the footage after a lawyer for the Prude family sought the video through an open-records request.

At one point in the deposition, Celli asked Singletary whether, after he had learned that Prude had died on March 30, it occurred to him then that Prude’s death was something the public ought to know.

“It never occurred to me,” Singletary said.

Warren fired Singletary a few weeks after Prude’s death became public in September, as pressure bore down on her administration amid almost around-the-clock protests of public outrage. She said Singletary neglected to inform her of the true nature of Prude’s death, at one point saying she was told Prude had overdosed.

>Under questioning, Singletary adamantly denied ever framing Prude’s death as a drug overdose, but acknowledged telling her during their earliest phone conversations that Prude was “high on PCP.”

"Never did I state that this was a drug overdose," Singletary said.

Former Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary.
Credit File photo / CITY
Former Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary.

But nor did Singletary tell the mayor that the medical examiner determined his officers had killed Prude.

He testified that he informed city officials that Prude's death had been ruled a homicide as a result of PCP intoxication, "excited delirium," and "resisting arrest."

Singletary has since signaled his intent to sue the city in a notice of claim that alleges he was fired because he refused to lie to investigators about his correspondence with the mayor. The Warren administration has cast the lawsuit as “frivolous.”

Nearly a dozen city officials, including Warren, have been deposed as part of the investigation. Those depositions were conducted privately in response to subpoenas.

Singletary declined to respond to his subpoena and, subsequently, negotiated a public deposition.

For the first hour and a half of Friday’s deposition, Celli focused his questions for Singletary on two phone conversations the former chief had with the mayor on March 23, the day that Prude was arrested and suffocated. The questioning was relatively linear, as Celli teased out the details of an 8:30 a.m. call in which Singletary reached out to the mayor to alert her to Prude's arrest and subsequent hospitalization, and then moved on to an inquiry about their 1:30 p.m. call, which was a previously scheduled meeting.

Singletary stated that during the first call, he relayed what he’d been told by then-Deputy Chief Joe Morabito. He recalled telling Warren that Prude was naked and making irrational remarks when officers found him, that he was in mental distress, that he was initially compliant as officers tried to affect an arrest but that “at some point the officers went hands on with Mr. Prude” and that afterward he went unconscious. He added that he hadn’t yet had a chance to watch the body-worn camera footage.

During the second call, Singletary had more information from his command staff and had watched body-worn camera footage from the scene. At that point he told Warren that the department had opened an internal investigation through the department’s Professional Standards Section and had referred the matter to the major crimes unit for a criminal review, the results of which would be turned over to the District Attorney’s Office for further review.

Singletary testified that during the second call he also provided Warren with details about the nature of the contact officers had with Prude. He explained how they restrained him, but never used the term “segmenting,” which is a technique officers in the department had just been trained on in January.

“The mayor and I talked in plain language,” Singletary said.

The deposition ended around 7:30 p.m., after nearly 10 hours.  After it was over, City Hall released this statement from spokesperson Maisha Beard:

“Today’s testimony proved that Mr. Singletary never shared the video depicting what truly happened to Mr. Prude with Mayor Warren prior to August 4. He stated in his opinion that 'nothing egregious' happened, disagreed that RPD officers were directly responsible for Mr. Prude's death, and even went so far as to say everything was done ‘by the book.’ He downplayed what occurred from the very beginning through today, and believes that neither he, nor anyone in the Rochester Police Department, did anything wrong. Mayor Warren believes we need to move forward with honoring Daniel Prude, and all the past victims of police violence, by doing the necessary work to reform policing and achieve equity in Rochester.”

David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at