Addressing the death of Daniel Prude publicly for the first time, the president of the Rochester police union said Friday that the officers involved in Prude's arrest conducted themselves consistent with their training.
Michael Mazzeo of the Rochester Police Locust Club said the union first learned of Prude's arrest within a day or two of it happening on March 23, when officers from Chief La'Ron Singletary's office contacted the union on behalf of the Police Department's Major Crimes Unit requesting to speak to the officers involved.
The Major Crimes Unit investigates criminal matters outside of the department. The unit is not to be confused with Internal Affairs, which probes members of the department for alleged wrongdoing.
"The message that was conveyed from the chief's office at that time was that there was no concerns with the actions of our members and that they had followed the correct protocols per their training," Mazzeo said.
He spoke to reporters from the union's offices on Lexington Avenue, where he described having spent the previous 48 hours trying to piece together the timeline of Prude's death and what has occurred in the months since.
Mazzeo spoke specifically of training for restraining suspects that he said was mandated by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and that the officers who arrested Prude took about a month before they encountered Prude.
That training was noted in an internal RPD investigative action report of the incident dated April 27 in which the investigator reported reviewing training records of the officers.
"The techniques used to stabilize Prude on the ground including segmenting, knee on top, and leg control were topics covered during RPD's 2020 Winter In-Service," the report read. "All officers attending the in-service training had to demonstrate proficiency on multiple techniques."
Referring to the ongoing state attorney general's investigation, Mazzeo said he welcomed the review of that training.
"I think when this investigation is over and you compare it to just what the training they went through, to me it looks like they were watching the training in front of them and doing it step by step by what that training says to do," Mazzeo said. "If there's a problem with that and there's an issue with it, then let's change it."
Among the most publicly criticized aspects of the arrest was the hooding of Prude by officers. Jarring still images from police body camera footage of a handcuffed and naked Prude sitting in the street wearing what appeared to be a white hood have been widely circulated.
The hood, known by the crude moniker of a "spit sock," is made of light mesh and police use them on suspects in their custody who are prone to spitting or are thought to have communicable diseases.
Mazzeo said the hood was used properly, although at one point, as officers restrained Prude, he had vomited into the hood.
"He was spitting, there are a number of issues with airborne pathogens that officers may encounter that are dangerous," Mazzeo said. "That's the purpose, and the protocol in place."
Prior to his encounter with police on Jefferson Avenue on March 23, Prude had been running through the neighborhood and screaming that he had the coronavirus, according to police reports.
In his remarks, which went on for nearly an hour, Mazzeo took thinly veiled jabs at Mayor Lovely Warren and police brass for their handling of the situation, keeping the union and the public in the dark for months.
He stopped short, however, of seizing on public refrains calling for the mayor and Singletary to resign.
"Should he be held accountable? Yes," Mazzeo said. "In fact, I think the person who's holding him accountable should be held accountable, quite frankly."
Warren on Thursday called a news conference at which she announced that the seven officers involved in Prude's arrest had been suspended with pay and said that Singletary had told her that Prude died of an overdose.
The Monroe County medical examiner found PCP in Prude's system, but ruled his death a homicide caused by "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint."
Mazzeo cast that news conference as "careless" and "reckless" and suggested the mayor had lied. Asked specifically what he thought Warren had lied about, Mazzeo replied, "Just about everything after 'good afternoon,' " referring to her opening line.
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or firstname.lastname@example.org.