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Mayor Lovely Warren: 'I was told Daniel Prude OD'd'

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Under fire for keeping the death of Daniel Prude from the public for five months, Mayor Lovely Warren said Thursday that she had suspended the seven officers involved in his fatal arrest and did not know the circumstances of his death until a month ago.

She acknowledged knowing of Prude's death shortly after it occurred on March 30, but said her police chief, La'Ron Singletary, told her that Prude had died of a drug overdose.

Warren said and that she only learned about the specifics of Prude's arrest — that he had been asphyxiated by officers who physically restrained him while he was hooded and handcuffed and naked — on Aug. 4 when the city was fulfilling a request for records under the Freedom of Information Law. 
Daniel Prude - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Daniel Prude


She said the city's corporation counsel, Tim Curtin, was compiling the records request that day for the attorney representing Prude's estate and showed her the video of the arrest to her then.

"Experiencing and ultimately dying from a drug overdose in police custody, as I was told by the chief, is entirely different than what I ultimately witnessed on the video provided to me by the law department on Aug. 4," Warren said. 

"At no time prior to Aug. 4 did Chief Singletary or anyone make me aware or show me a video of the actions of the RPD officers involved in Mr. Prude’s death," Warren added.



"What I saw in that video was a man who needed help, a man who needed compassion, a man who needed humanity, a man who we should have respected, a man who was in crisis," Warren went on. "Our response to him was wrong and we need to change how we deal with these situations going forward."

Warren said she had no plans to fire Singletary.

"I have addressed with the police chief how deeply and personally and professionally disappointed I am for him failing to fully and accurately inform me about what occurred with Mr. Prude," Warren said. "He knows he needs to do better to truly protect and serve our community and I believe that he will."

Speaking to reporters at City Hall, the mayor also disclosed that her administration has been in talks with lawyers representing Prude's estate and his family about settling a pending lawsuit.

Prude was arrested on Jefferson Avenue in the early morning hours of March 23. When officers confronted him, Prude was naked and distressed and had allegedly broken a string of storefront windows, according to police reports.

Officers quickly handcuffed him and put a hood, commonly referred to as a "spit sock," over his head. Body camera footage shows that the officers stood nearby as Prude lay and sit in the street, often rambling incoherently and shouting obscenities.

The officers moved to restrain him further when Prude, still sitting and handcuffed and hooded, demanded they give him a gun. Three officers maneuvered Prude onto his stomach, held down his head and feet, and applied pressure to his back. 
A screenshot of police body camera footage of the arrest of Daniel Prude. Prude had been released from Strong Memorial Hospital only hours early after a mental health evaluation.
  • A screenshot of police body camera footage of the arrest of Daniel Prude. Prude had been released from Strong Memorial Hospital only hours early after a mental health evaluation.


Shortly thereafter, Prude slipped into unconsciousness and eventually stopped breathing. He was resuscitated by paramedics en route to Strong Memorial Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition and died a week later.

The Monroe County medical examiner determined his death to be a homicide brought on by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delerium due to acute phencyclidine intoxication,” an indication that Prude might have been high on PCP.

Warren did not make clear when the city began negotiating a settlement to a potential lawsuit, but Elliot Shields, the lawyer for the estate of Daniel Prude, said in a brief interview Thursday that the city had reached out to him "about a month ago."

He said that the family at that time demanded that the police officers involved in Prude’s death be fired. He added that city officials responded that it could take no such action until the state Attorney General’s Office had completed its investigation.

“They said, ‘We have to wait for the AG,’ and we said, ‘Okay,” Shields said.

He added that no other demands had been made, including for a financial settlement, saying , "we did not talk numbers."

Warren cast the negotiation differently, saying, "I know there is a demand for a sum of money from the city and what usually happens is those settlements are negotiated."

That Prude’s family asked city officials that the officers be fired came to light a day after Shields announced plans to sue the city, claiming that the techniques police used to restrain Prude caused his death.
Daniel Prude's brother, Joe Prude, outside City Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, to announce plans to sue the city over Prude's death. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Daniel Prude's brother, Joe Prude, outside City Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, to announce plans to sue the city over Prude's death.
Warren acknowledged Wednesday, after Shields and the family of Prude brought the circumstances of Prude’s arrest and subsequent death on March 30 to light, that she had known about the incident for some time.

She claimed, though, that she was prohibited from disclosing Prude’s death publicly by the provisions of a governor’s executive order mandating that the state attorney general investigate instances of civilian deaths at the hands of police.

“I want everyone to understand and be very clear that at no point in time did we feel this was something we wanted not to disclose,” Warren said. “This is not something that’s in our wheelhouse, in our control, at this moment in time.

“Had it been, then for me, this would be something we would have talked about months ago. Unfortunately I can’t, because of what my law department is telling me I have to adhere to, and that’s the executive order and the attorney general’s investigation.”

The order in question is Executive Order 147, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed in 2015 after Eric Garner died at the hands of New York City police.

But there is nothing in the order or amendments to the order barring public officials from publicly addressing such instances. The order simply provides that the state has jurisdiction for an investigation.

Attorney General Leticia James has said that her investigation is ongoing.

Mayor Lovely Warren told reporters on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, that she would work with Rochester City Council to double the capacity of city and county programs for responding to mental health 911 calls. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Mayor Lovely Warren told reporters on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, that she would work with Rochester City Council to double the capacity of city and county programs for responding to mental health 911 calls.
Members of the City Council on Thursday wrote to James asking her whether there was anything in Executive Order 147 that prevented the city from disclosing information about Prude’s death sooner.

“Yesterday, the City Council and our community became aware of the death of Daniel Prude, saw the incredibly disturbing body camera footage for the first time, and learned of your role in the investigation,” the letter read.

“We also heard from our city’s corporation counsel (lawyer) that the city was unable to disclose any information around Mr. Prude’s death as a result of Executive Order 147, and we would like to have a formal response if this is also your reading of the order.

“If this is true, we strongly suggest that the order be amended to allow communication to the City Council and the community, either from the city or from your office,” the letter concluded. “Every family and every community deserves the right to know if someone has died while in police custody.”

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. David Andreatta is CITY's editor. They can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com and dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.