The documents also include other examples of possible attempts by police and city officials to control the narrative about Prude’s death in custody.
A request from a Prude family attorney for camera footage of the body has set in motion an effort by city officials and police to slow down the tape’s release, which shows officers kneeling and holding Prude.
Elliot Shields, a lawyer held by Prude’s brother, filed a request for the Freedom of Information Act for the footage on April 3. The footage wasn’t released until August 12.
Documents show that, following that email, city attorneys spoke to Rochester police officers and also a lawyer in the New York Attorney General̵
“I wonder if we shouldn’t hold back for a while considering what’s going on in the country,” wrote a police officer in an email to a city prosecutor on June 4. Among those involved in the conversation are then-boss La’Ron Singletary and current acting boss Mark Simmons.
“We certainly don’t want people to misinterpret the actions of officers and confuse this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationwide,” Simmons wrote. “I ask you to contact the Corporation Council and ask them to deny the request on the grounds that the case is still active, as it is currently being investigated for possible criminal charges to be brought forward by the AG’s office.”
“I totally agree,” Singletary replied.
Prude stopped breathing and was pronounced brain dead in a hospital, where he died a week later on March 30.
The Monroe County coroner ultimately ruled that Prude’s death was a homicide, citing the complications of asphyxiation in the context of physical restraint. The report also cites excited delirium and acute PCP intoxication as contributing factors to the immediate cause of death.
Charges of cover-up
“This first look has shown what so many have suspected, that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department,” Warren said in a news release. “One who sees everything through the eyes of the badge and not the citizens we serve. It shows that Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who have looked into the case across the city government at all. levels “.
In a statement last week announcing his retirement, Singletary said the public was misinformed about what he did.
“Members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester community know my reputation and know what I stand for,” Singletary said. “The mis-characterization and politicization of the actions I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not based on facts, and that’s not what I claim.”
Last week, Prude’s sister filed a federal court case against Singletary, 13 other officers, and the upstate New York City, partly claiming a Department of Death coverage. Neither Singletary nor the city responded to requests for comment on the litigation.
Simmons, the acting chief, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on Wednesday.
The New York Freedom of Information Act allows state agencies to withhold documents when their disclosure would interfere with an ongoing investigation or compromise a confidential informant.
Shields, the family’s attorney, was able to view the police footage at the Attorney General’s office in mid-July but a copy was not provided.
In a June 3 email between Rochester Police Lieutenant Michael Perkowski and Rochester City Attorney Stephanie Price, Perkowski said that a lawyer at the AG’s office “may be able to help by allowing plaintiff’s attorney to view the body-worn camera footage without releasing it, to buy some time before having to release it. “
On Wednesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office released a statement in defense of her office on CNN.
“At no time during this investigation did any member of the Attorney General’s Office instruct the City of Rochester or the Rochester Police Department to withhold information of any kind, period.
“For weeks, the city and the police department have been engaged in a deeply troubling and misleading campaign in an attempt to cover their tracks and shirk responsibility rather than focus on the real issue at hand. As we have done since April, our office it will keep him working tirelessly and without distractions to provide the answers the Prude family and the Rochester community deserve. “
“Make him a suspect”
Additionally, the documents show at least two instances where changes were made to reports relating to the incident that led to Prude’s death.
Two reports of accidents filed by police officers appear, in the documents released by the Municipality, to have been edited with red pencil. It is unclear who wrote these handwritten notes or when they were actually made. In an accident report submitted by Officer Mark Vaughn, among many changes, some trivial ones, Prude’s name is written in the space labeled “Victim”.
Prude’s name is circled in red next to a large handwritten note: “Make him a suspect.”
A similar note is attached to a report from Officer Paul Ricotta, who responded to a burglary alarm at 3:10 am.
“List Daniel Prude as [Suspect], “it reads in red pencil.” Add burglary – video recorded during the day shows [suspect] stop the window and enter the location. “
Video footage of Prude’s arrest includes agents speculating whether Prude (described as “Mr. PCP”) could be the person responsible for a broken window at a T-Mobile store. The original report had listed the suspect as “unknown”.
Rochester police union chairman Mike Mazzeo told CNN on Wednesday that he doesn’t know who wrote the handwritten reviews on police reports, but said it’s normal practice to revise reports before they’re finalized. He pointed out that the reports in question do not have the approval of a supervisor.
An undated follow-up report on the incident from Rochester’s Major Crimes Unit states that “several reports have been rejected for reviews,” but does not clarify which reports or which reviews.
Try to speak to the coroner’s office
Additionally, the documents reveal an email exchange after Prude’s death at Strong Memorial Hospital where Lt. Perkowski tried to speak to the coroner’s office prior to Prude’s autopsy.
“I imagine your office will do an autopsy,” Perkowski wrote to Julie Luedke, the confidential assistant to the Monroe County coroner on March 31. “Can we talk to me before we start?”
“He is somewhat sensitive, as he was in police custody when he was sent to the hospital,” Perkowski continued. “I was on the scene and I have all the details for you.”
In response, Luedke asked for major accident reports, which Perkowski said were on the way. Then again he said he had “background information” and offered to come and see the coroner. Luedke replied that he would call Perkowski.
The Monroe County coroner finally ruled that Prude’s death was a murder. CNN contacted the coroner’s office for comment.
Mazzeo, the president of the police union, said it was probably a standard interaction.
“A coroner needs to have the information and set up a lot of information based on the context of what happened,” he said.
“I haven’t seen any of these emails until they were released. But I’m telling you that the coroner always wants that kind of information and that serious crimes work hand in hand with the coroner’s office on any murder or any investigation. “
Mazzeo said the union will provide representation for the officers involved in the case and plans to announce the names of those lawyers as soon as Friday.
He also acknowledged the missteps between the police and the city leadership.
“I’m shocked, and I have no reason why they handled it that way. And apparently the boss paid the price, but I tend to believe that there are too many fellows in here. And we’re not really getting to the root of the problem.” he said.
“Why would any of us want to experience what we’re experiencing now? You know, public trust is important, and it’s still very difficult in police work. Why make stupid mistakes or handle things like that. It doesn’t make sense. leadership should be questioned on this. “
Eric Levenson of CNN contributed to this report.