Rochester police commanders urged city officials to withhold public release of body camera footagebecause they feared a violent backlash if the video was released during nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd, the newly released emails show. Deputy Chief Mark Simmons cited “current weather” in the city and nation in a June 4 warning email. to get city attorneys to deny a Prude family lawyer’s request for public documents for footage of the March 23 meeting that led to his death.
The video, finally released by Prude̵
“We certainly don’t want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions and confuse this incident with the recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationwide,” Simmons wrote. “It would simply be a false narrative and, as a result, could create animosity and a potentially violent blow in this community.”
Western New York City released emails, police reports and other documents on Monday when Mayor Lovely Warren fired Singletary and suspended Corporation Adviser Tim Curtin and Communications Director Justin Roj without pay for 30 days between the continuing fallout from Prude’s death. Simmons was appointed acting head of the police department.
Simmons’ email trying to get the city to deny the request for the Freedom of Information Act echoed emails from other police officials concerned about the release of the video of the March 23 meeting as protesters stood. taking to the streets of Rochester and elsewhere to protest Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis and other police killings of black people.
On June 4, Lt. Mike Perkowski told a city attorney that he was “very concerned about releasing him prematurely in light of what is going on” and Captain Frank Umbrino told another police officer “any information release should be joint and coordinated with the mayor and the boss as it has very intense ramifications “.
Simmons forwarded both emails to Singletary with his message advising the boss to have the Prude family attorney’s request for public documents canceled, according to documents released Monday. Simmons suggested that the city deny the request because the case was still under investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
“I totally agree,” Singletary replied, according to the emails.
Later, on June 4, as the discussion of the request for documents continued, city attorney Stephanie Prince told Curtin of a way to buy more time: to allow the Attorney General’s office to show the family the video, how he done in other cases, but don’t give them a copy of it.
“That way, Council won’t release anything about the case for at least a month (more like 2), and it won’t be publicly available,” Prince wrote.
Warren claims she didn’t see the camera footage of the body until city lawyers played them for her on August 4 and that Singletary initially tricked her into the circumstances of Prude’s death.
After seeing the video, Warren sent an email to Singletary saying she was “outraged” by the conduct of the agent who pressed Prude’s head against the ground, Mark Vaughn, and that he would face an investigation. immediate disciplinary.
In an unsent draft of that email, Warren criticized Singletary for “grossly underestimating” Prude’s death by first describing a drug overdose to her. In the draft, prepared with the help of Deputy Mayor James Smith, Warren said he firmly believed that Vaughn should be fired and that he would demand Vaughn shut down in March if he saw the footage at the time. He suspended Vaughn and six other officers last week.
“Frankly, I would have expected the police chief to show me this video in March,” Warren wrote in the draft. The toned down version sent to Singletary did not include the critical one.
“I should have known. Everyone is right. I should have known,” Warren told WHEC-TV on Tuesday. “But this incident – a tragic and unfortunate situation – had been downplayed from the start as a PCP overdose.”
A quick management review conducted by Smith on the city’s handling of Prude’s death found that the stalled release of the body camera video due to concerns over the cost of the optics caused “considerable damage” to the work done by the company. city to improve relations between the police and the public.
“It is difficult to rationalize how anyone who has seen the video of Mr. Prude’s meeting with the RPD has not fully identified these events beyond a few mentions of bad publicity, politics, trial or a ‘false narrative’,” he wrote. Smith. “Rochester is in dire need of healing. We have lost nearly six months of opportunity to start that process.”
City council voted on Tuesday night to repeal its decision to build a new $ 16 million police station, WHEC-TV reported.
Singletary announced his retirement last week as part of a major change in the city’s police leadership, but he had planned to stay until the end of the month. In announcing his retirement on September 8, the outgoing boss accused critics of trying to “destroy my character and integrity”.
Prude’s death sparked nearly two weeks of late night protests and calls for Warren’s resignation. His family filed a federal lawsuit claiming the police department tried to cover up the true nature of Prude’s death.
The CBS WROC affiliate reports that police officers arrived at City Hall early Wednesday to disband the protesters who have been on the scene since early Tuesday morning.
In a speaker on Wednesday morning, a Rochester police department said failure to exit the area will result in arrests, but protesters remained in place.
“We will be here, that won’t change anything,” said Ashley Gantt, organizer of Free the People and NYCLU.