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Rochester, N.Y., police leadership to retire following outrage over death of Black man

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Top police leaders in Rochester, N.Y., announced their retirements Tuesday as nightly protests continue over the city's handling of the suffocation death of Daniel Prude.

In this image taken from police body camera video provided by Roth and Roth LLP, Rochester police officers hold down Daniel Prude on March 23, in Rochester, N.Y. (Rochester Police/Roth and Roth LLP/The Associated Press)

Top police leaders in Rochester, N.Y., announced their retirements Tuesday amid nightly protests over the city's handling of the suffocation death of Daniel Prude, whose family filed a federal lawsuit alleging a cover-up by law enforcement.

Police Chief La'Ron Singletary, Deputy Chief Joseph M. Morabito and two commanders retired, while two more deputy chiefs and a commander gave up top leadership positions and returned to lower ranks.The outgoing chief accused critics of trying to "destroy [his] character and integrity."

The abrupt change of course for Singletary, 40, came after "new information that was brought to light today that I had not previously seen before," Mayor Lovely Warren said during a video call with city council members. She said she did not ask the chief to resign but otherwise did not elaborate.

"As you all know, this has been a very challenging time for the city of Rochester, and the chief was not asked to give his resignation because I do believe that he's giving his very best," Warren told council members.

While the "timing and tenor" of the retirements were difficult, Warren said later at a brief news conference, "I truly believe that we will get through this."

The sudden announcements came more than five months after the death of Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who died several days after an encounter with police March 23. There have been nightly protests in Rochester, New York's third-largest city, since the video's release Wednesday.

"The events that have unfolded today have taken us completely by surprise, as they have everyone else," the Rochester police union, known as the Locust Club, said in a statement. The union blamed the "problems of leadership" on the mayor.

Demonstrators march along a street in Rochester on Friday, during a protest over Prude's death. (Adrian Kraus/The Associated Press)

"The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for," Singletary said in a statement. "The mischaracterization and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude's death is not based on facts and is not what I stand for. "

Singletary, who spent his entire career inside the Rochester Police Department, was appointed chief in April 2019. He will stay on through the end of the month, Warren said. Both the mayor and Singletary are Black.

"This is great news," said Iman Abid, speaking for Free the People ROC, which has held nightly protests since details of Prude's death emerged.

"It says to the people that people are able to move things and to shape things. The police chief wouldn't retire if it weren't for something that he felt he was accountable to."

Joe Prude, brother of Daniel Prude, right, and his son Armin, stand with a picture of Daniel Prude in Rochester, N.Y., on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (Ted Shaffrey/The Associated Press)

But, she said, nightly protests will continue to push for other demands, including the resignation of the mayor, defunding and demilitarizing of police, and development of a state law barring police departments from responding to mental health crises.

Warren said she didn't know when the retirements would take effect.

It was unclear who would be in charge of police Tuesday night if demonstrators come out for a sixth straight night, as expected. Demonstrators have called for the resignations of both Singletary and Warren, who are both Black.

On March 23, officers found Prude running naked down the street, put a hood over his head to stop him from spitting, then held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. He died a week later after he was taken off life support.

His brother, Joe Prude, had called 911 seeking help for Daniel's unusual behaviour. Daniel had been taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation earlier that night but was released after a few hours, his brother told officers.

His death sparked outrage after his relatives last week released police body camera video and written reports they obtained through a public records request.

Seven police officers were suspended a day later, and state Attorney General Letitia James said Saturday she would form a grand jury and conduct an "exhaustive investigation" into Prude's death.

Lawsuit filed

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, Prude's family alleged that it took more than 90 seconds for officers to notice he had stopped breathing because they were chatting and making jokes at his expense.

Prude's sister, Tameshay, sued as executor of his estate and named the city of Rochester, Singletary and officers involved in the arrest as defendants.

Prude's family contends his death and a cover-up stem from longstanding police department policy and practice that "condones and encourages officers to use excessive force as a matter of course, and to lie in official police paperwork and sworn testimony to justify their unlawful actions."

The lawsuit alleges the police department sought to cover up the true nature of Prude's death, starting with what Warren said was Singletary reporting to her early on that Prude had an apparent drug overdose.

The lawsuit also argues officers used force against Prude at a time when he "obviously posed no threat to the safety of the officers or anyone else."

"Mr. Prude was in the midst of an acute, manic, psychotic episode," the lawsuit states. "Mr. Prude was unarmed, naked and suffering. He needed help."

Police union officials have said the officers were following their training.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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