Against the advice of counsel, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said Thursday that she is suspending seven police officers involved in the death of 41-year-old Daniel Prude.
Earlier Thursday, City Council wrote a letter to Warren calling for the officers to be placed on administrative leave. The officers are suspended with pay, and Warren said she understood that the police union may sue the city over the move.
Prude died March 30, a week after an incident on Jefferson Avenue, where police responded to a call from Prude's family concerned about his mental state. Officers found Prude naked in the middle of the street. They handcuffed him and later pinned him down to the roadway. The report from the medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide.
Warren said she was told by Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary that Prude died after a drug overdose.
"Experiencing and ultimately dying from a drug overdose in police custody, as I was told by the chief, is entirely different than what I ultimately witnessed on the video provided to me by the law department on Aug. 4," Warren said.
"At no time prior to Aug. 4 did Chief Singletary or anyone make me aware or show me a video of the actions of the RPD officers involved in Mr. Prude’s death," Warren added.
The mayor said she was disappointed in the chief, “for him failing to fully and accurately inform me about what occurred with Mr. Prude. He knows he needs to do better to truly protect and serve our community, and I believe that he will.”
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The mayor said she also failed. Warren, who is an attorney, said that earlier on in this investigation, she was using her legal mind, rather than viewing the situation as a person of faith and family.
"Mr. Daniel Prude was failed, by our police department, our mental health care system, our society, and he was failed by me," Warren said.
Speaking to reporters at City Hall, the mayor also disclosed that her administration has been in talks with lawyers representing Prude's estate and his family about settling a pending lawsuit.
Warren did not make clear when the city began negotiating a settlement to a potential lawsuit, but Elliot Shields, the lawyer for Prude's estate, said in a brief interview Thursday that the city had reached out to him "about a month ago."
He said that the family at that time demanded that the police officers involved in Prude’s death be fired. He added that city officials responded that it could take no such action until the state Attorney General’s Office had completed its investigation.
“They said, ‘We have to wait for the AG,’ and we said, ‘OK,' ” Shields said.
He added that no other demands had been made, including for a financial settlement, saying, "we did not talk numbers."
Warren cast the negotiation differently, saying, "I know there is a demand for a sum of money from the city and what usually happens is those settlements are negotiated."
Warren is also dropping the charges against protesters who were arrested on Wednesday, as requested by City Council in the same letter. The Council members said that, “our citizens are exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest” and they asked that the city administration and law enforcement do everything they can to de-escalate tension.
Council members also asked for more investment in mental health services, calling for $750,000 from the city budget to better fund Monroe County’s Forensic Intervention Team. FIT partners with clinicians from the county’s Office of Mental Health to help people struggling with mental health needs. Warren said on Thursday that the city will provide more funding and urged city police to use FIT whenever possible.
Also on Thursday, state Attorney General Letitia James issued an update on her office's investigation into Prude’s death. James said her office has not asked the city or its police department to refrain from launching an internal investigation. In fact, James said her office encourages both the city and the police department to move ahead with an internal review simultaneous to her office's probe.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a statement Thursday saying that he watched the video of Prude’s death.
“What I saw was deeply disturbing and I demand answers," he said.
Cuomo called for the case to be concluded as quickly as possible and he said for that to happen, “we need the full and timely cooperation of the Rochester Police Department and I trust it will fully comply."
Includes reporting from Jeremy Moule and David Andreatta with CITY, our news partner.