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City Council calls for mayor to fire Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin

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Tim Curtin.

Rochester City Council is calling for the immediate firing of City Hall’s top attorney, Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin.

City Council members issued the demand Thursday afternoon, roughly two weeks after attorney Andrew Celli presented them with a report outlining the findings of his investigation into the city’s handling of the death of Daniel Prude. They said they were calling for Curtin’s termination because of actions and remarks that the report attributed to him.

The report, which Celli publicly released March 12, stated that Curtin advised Mayor Lovely Warren not to publicly comment after she had seen the body camera footage of Prude’s March 23, 2020, arrest. Prude stopped breathing as three officers pinned him down; he was hospitalized at Strong Memorial Hospital, where he died on March 30.

The report said Curtin advised the mayor not to comment for reasons which were “factually incorrect, legally without basis, or both.” It also stated that he claimed HIPAA, a series of confidentiality laws intended to protect medical patients, precluded the release of body camera video from Prude’s arrest to Elliot Shields, an attorney representing his family. The report concluded there was no basis for that claim or withholding of the video.

“A central finding from that special investigation is that Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin consistently obstructed the Prude family and the Rochester community from learning what happened to Mr. Prude,” said Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot. “Corporation Counsel knowingly made false claims to prevent the public from receiving information about the Prude case.”

Ultimately, Deputy Corporation Counsel Patrick Beath provided the footage to Shields in August, who in April had requested it under state open records laws, under the belief that Curtin authorized its release. The report stated that Curtin responded by saying the “city will burn” and “we will all lose our jobs.”

Council members said they will be drafting a resolution urging Mayor Lovely Warren to terminate Curtin.

City Council confirmed Curtin’s appointment as corporation counsel in 2017. The body does not have the authority to compel Curtin’s firing, Council President Loretta Scott said in a phone interview after Thursday’s news conference.

“We can’t withdraw our confirmation and fire him, but we definitely can be vocal about our desire for this action,” Scott said.

When asked if any specific instance in the report prompted the decision from Council, Scott pointed to the “city will burn” statement, but said the entirety of Curtin’s actions were “egregious.”

Councilmember Mitch Gruber said Curtin’s actions, alongside his unwillingness to provide documents to the Police Accountability Board, undermine trust in city government.

“This behavior has severely damaged trust between citizens and their government,” Gruber said.

City spokesperson Justin Roj pushed back on Council members’ call for Curtin to be sacked. He noted that in September, Curtin was suspended for a month after Deputy Mayor James Smith’s review of how the administration and top Rochester Police Department officials handled information about Prude’s death and the circumstances behind it.

“Mr. Curtin has already been seriously reprimanded and suspended without pay for a month,” Roj said in a statement.

A voice message requesting comment from Curtin was not immediately returned.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.