ROCHESTER, NY – It was the beginning of June, a few days after George Floyd’s death, and there were protests in the country’s cities against police atrocities.
The streets in Rochester were fairly quiet, but behind closed doors police and city officials became increasingly worried. Black man Daniel Prude, died of suffocation in March when police officers put their heads in hoods and fastened it to the ground. The public has never been told about the death, but that will change if police body camera videos appear.
“We really don’t want people to misunderstand the actions of the officials and confuse the incident with any unarmed black men recently killed by the country’s law enforcement,” the deputy chief of police in Rochester wrote in a letter to his chief. “It would simply be a false story and it could lead to hostility and a potentially violent blow to this community.”
His advice was clear: don’t release body camera footage to a Prude family lawyer. A few minutes later, the police chief replied, “I totally agree.”
June 4 The exchange has been included in a number of city documents released on Monday showing how prominent Rochester officials did everything possible to keep the disturbing videos of the incident out of public view and to prevent the dramatic death of Mr Prude.
Dozens of emails Letters, police reports, and internal reviews reveal a number of delaying tactics – starting with hospital privacy laws and blaming overworked staff for processing videos – used in this mission.
The documents show how police tried to enshrine the story in the earliest hours, demonstrating the danger to Mr Prude’s potential and highlighting the tactics of officers who pressed him to the ground naked and with a hood until he stopped breathing.
In a police report of the collision, by ticking the box for “type of victim”, a former official at the scene, who said police had broken the shop window that night, simply listed him as a “person”. But another officer wrapped the word in red pen and wrote a note.
“Make him a suspect,” it is written.
Mr Prude’s death sparked daily protests in Rochester and allegations of hiding his family. Earlier this month, the mayor of the city was Lovely Warren removed seven officials who attended the meeting.
These documents were on the 323-page internal review of Mr Prude’s death and the city’s actions in the following months. She referred to a announcement made on Monday that she had decided to dismiss police chief La’Ron Singletary two weeks ago. he had to leave.
Mr Prude was found on March 23, about 3 a.m., slapping naked on the street, telling at least one witness he had coronavirus. Mr Prude had just arrived at his brother’s house in Rochester and appears to have been affected by the PCP.
Officers handcuffed him, but when Mr. Prud ignored orders to stop spitting, they put a hood on his head. He was excited, and three officers pinned him, one leaning heavily on Mr. Prude’s head. Mr. Prude’s prayers turned into buzzing sounds and he stopped breathing. A week later, he was removed from life support.
In their incident reports, officials described the meeting with Mr Prude as peaceful before he began spitting and demanding a weapon. When officers arrested him, he “threw and then became unresponsive,” a police lieutenant wrote in an email four hours later.
A preliminary review of the incident singled out officer Mark Vaughn, who arrested Mr. Prude heads “using the segmentation technique” until he “seems to ease the pressure on the area”.
In fact, Officer Vaughn leaned heavily on Mr Prude’s head, following a recline that lasted at least 68 seconds, New York Times analysis body camera footage showed. He descended after it appeared that Mr. Prudis had lost consciousness. Police officers will later say Mr Prude has suffered from a drug overdose.
Mr. Prude’s brother Joe Prude and other family members immediately doubted he had died of an overdose. They contacted attorney Elliot Shields, who on April 3rd. Provided a legal notice obliging the city to preserve evidence of the collision, the forerunners of the wrongful death case.
He also demanded the transfer of all documents and videos related to Mr Prude’s arrest under the State’s Freedom of Information Act.
April 10 The district medical expert announced the findings of the autopsy, concluding that Mr. Prude died of murder from asphyxia, and noting the PCP in his system. The chief singer wrote a summary of the incident (“Officials stabilized the person on the ground”) to the city’s communications director, Justin Roy.
“The mayor was in the loop,” the man wrote then.
Mayor Warren said she was not told about the fight with officials that took place before Mr. Prude cardiac arrest – only he experienced a drug overdose.
By April 21, the state attorney general’s office had informed local officials that it was launching an investigation into the death.
A few days later, Rochester police completed their investigation: “The actions and behaviors of the officers shown in dealing with Prude are appropriate and consistent with their training,” the internal report said.
In late May, Mr Shields, a lawyer at Prudes, began complying with his request for an open record, saying the deadline for handing over the material had expired.
But Rochester officials still did not want to hand them over. Mr. Floyd died on Remembrance Day, and scenes of unrest spread throughout the country.
Deputy Chief Mark Simmons shared his concern about the “blow” from society. He was not alone.
“I’m very concerned about putting it ahead of time, given what’s going on in Rochester and across the country,” Police Lieutenant Michael E. Perkowski wrote in an email to Stephanie A. Prince, a city lawyer. “I may be thinking too much, but I think the headquarters and the mayor want it to disappear beforehand.”
Officials who wanted the videos not to be available to the public seemed to find a convenient, if unlikely, tool: a survey by the Attorney General. Mr Simmons, Mrs Prince and others have repeatedly suggested that the city not pass records to Mr Prude’s family because the case was under investigation, an exception to the law on open records.
In an e-mail to Mr Chief, Mr Simmons raised the possibility of rejecting the request to record documents “on the grounds that the case was still active, as it was currently being investigated for possible criminal charges by the AG’s office”.
Ms. Prince came up with a similar strategy: the city could stop the general release of the videos by allowing the Prude family’s attorney to review them at a meeting with the attorney general’s office, but he was not allowed to keep his own copies. June 4 In an email, she told others that the idea was coined by Jennifer Sommers, the state’s assistant attorney general.
“What her office usually does and what she offers in this regard,” Ms Prince wrote, is to invite the Prude family lawyer to personally review the case, “provided he agrees to sign an agreement that he cannot scan / copy / otherwise attempt. recover information. In this way, AG takes the case to a family lawyer, but we do not make anything public. “
The next day, she reiterated the thought: “In this way, the city does not spend anything related to the case for at least a month (more than 2), and it will not be publicly available.”
The Attorney General’s Office denied having played any role in the release of the videos. “The Prude family and the wider Rochester community deserve answers, and we will continue to work around the clock to get them,” state attorney general Letitia James said in a statement.
The meeting with the lawyer took place in June, the next with Mr Shields and members of the Prude family in July. However, Mr Shields did not stop demanding videos. The city pushed, citing the sensitivity of Mr Prude’s naked body images, his privacy as a patient receiving medical treatment, and at the end of July a “huge salary” for a lone worker who viewed body camera videos. run.
Copies of the videos were eventually published by Mr. Shields on August 12th, more than four months after he requested them. The videos were sent through the U.S. Postal Service.
September 2 He released them to the public. The response was the same as officials feared, and since then every evening the blocks of the city of Rochester have been filled with protesters.
Mr. Simmons, the deputy chief, who urged not to publish the videos, was demoted to the lieutenant last week. The humiliation did not last long: on Monday, he was appointed acting police chief.