ROCHESTER, N.Y. (NewsNation Now) — The Rochester Police Department has been under fire since the video of Daniel Prude was released, showing him handcuffed and naked with a mesh spit hood over his head as an officer pushed his face to the ground, while another officer pressed a knee into his back.
This week Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren initiated a “comprehensive review” into the death of Daniel Prude, nearly two weeks after Prude’s family made details of his death public.
Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago, died March 30 after he was taken off life support, seven days after Rochester police took him into custody. Prude’s family said he was suffering a mental health crisis, but on the bodycam video, his brother can be heard telling the responding officer that Prude is high on PCP. News of the incident just came to light on September 2, and now the case is being investigated by the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
The autopsy report from the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death of Prude as a homicide. It says the cause of death includes “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delirium due to acute phencyclidine intoxication.” The report also showed that Prude had PCP in his system at the time of his death.
Since news of Prude’s March death in Rochester became public, Police Chief Singletary has been removed, multiple command staff members of the Rochester Police Department announced their retirement, and the city’s communication director and lawyer have been suspended without pay, all while protests have persisted for 16 straight days in the city.
At the center of it all has been Mayor Warren, who has consistently stated that she didn’t know the specific and important details about Prude’s death until she was shown the body camera footage on August 4. The video became public weeks later and protests ignited calling for her resignation.
The mayor sat down for a one-on-one interview Wednesday with NewsNation affiliate WROC’s Anchor Adam Chodak to talk about accountability, protocol, and more.
Here is the full interview transcript:
Adam Chodak: You said, “At no time prior to August 4th 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.” But Chief Singletary said in an April 10th email to [communications director] Justin Roj that you were “in the loop” and he was waiting for a call back from you regarding the medical examiner’s report. You said yesterday that you saw a text from Singletary on that same day — what did it say?
Mayor Lovely Warren: It talked about PCP, and to be honest, Adam, this was not about what was said, this is about what wasn’t said. This was characterized from the very beginning as a person that was in mental health distress, on PCP, and an overdose and in-custody death. Up until I saw the video, that was the way it was characterized and if you look at all of the information, it clearly shows that from the beginning of this, this was to be characterized and downplayed as a PCP overdose.
It wasn’t until I had an opportunity to see the video — and it’s all about what I did not know — but I can assure you, had I known, I would have acted in the way that I’ve acted in the past and that is with decisiveness. When the situation happened with Christopher Pate, and I had all of the information, those officers were suspended, those officers were charged, those officers ultimately, because of the process that we went through, no longer are on our force. And I can assure you had I known what I know now with all, with all of the documentation that’s been provided, this situation, tragic situation, would have been handled very differently.
AC: Were you able to talk with him afterwards? And I ask because I want to know if he alerted you to the autopsy report that called this a homicide.
LW: Supposedly, somebody told me that he allegedly told me in an elevator. This is not something you tell the mayor, the leader of the city, in the elevator. I’ve met with him 50 times since then. The ME’s report hasn’t been provided. It was never emailed to me.
Even after, in June, many of the officers in his own rank said “we need to include the mayor, we need to show her the video.” And frankly, Adam, the Locust Club was given more deference to the video than me. At any point in time, for the hundreds of emails that have gone back and forth, I could have been Cc’d, I could have been contacted, I could have been included.
The ME’s report, even in that note to the communications department was not included, the body worn cam video was not included. I can only assume that that was to support a narrative that had already been given — that it was a PCP overdose with someone that had a mental health hygiene arrest and an in-custody death. And I can assure you that had I been given that information, had I been given all of the facts in this case as I have in the past; when we had the taser situation, the Christopher Pate, I would have taken decisive action.
AC: So you don’t remember anyone saying the word homicide to you before August 4th?
LW: I assure you, Adam, this whole situation — I was not given the correct information.
AC: Going to the points you were making: You look at the lieutenant asking the medical examiner to have a conversation before the autopsy, you look at La’Ron Singletary saying the cause of death was resisting arrest — not asphyxia as was indicated in the autopsy, you look at the effort of members of RPD to deny or delay the release of the body camera video from the June 4th email chain, and you add your version: That you weren’t told about the officers’ actions until August 4. And yesterday you said “There was an effort by many people to shield information from the public and family?” Isn’t that another way of saying you think there was a cover-up?
LW: That is up for you and the public to decide. I can only allow the evidence to speak for itself. To me, what happened here was absolutely appalling and it was wrong, and I am committed to making sure that what happened here doesn’t happen to another citizen, and that is the reason why I want the DOJ to come in an do an extensive review.
I’m talking to consultants right now about working with the Rochester Police Department, with not only how we train our officers, but our body worn camera video, what we’re doing in our general orders to really show us our problem. You know, when the Christopher Pate situation happened, I really thought that this was an anomaly; we really don’t treat people this way. But what this Daniel Prude case has showed me, with people standing around, joking while this man was in distress — laughing, like he wasn’t a human being — that we have a pervasive problem.
We have a pervasive problem when I look at the documentation and I have all the information. And that’s why I thought it was so very important to share that information now, but more importantly that we do something about it, and that’s what I’m committed to do.
AC: Talking about the DOJ, do you think this current Department of Justice will be sympathetic to an alleged police brutality case.
LW: My hope and my prayer that come January we will have a different DOJ, but at this point in time they are the authority. I know they have taken up cases like this and looked at police departments like this, and I believe that they are the authority on this and they are the ones who can give us proper guidance — along with the consultants I hope to bring in to give us an extensive review with how we do business.
You know, back in 1964 when the riots happened, it was a terrible time in Rochester. People didn’t want to see what was right before their eyes. The reason I brought body worn cameras here, the reason I reorganized the police department, the reason why I wanted officers to go back into the community and have relationships with the people they serve is because I believe we have to. We have to do better. The tax payers of this city are the people that we serve and I wanted everyone to be able to see how we do business. I brought body cameras here, against the will of the police union. Now how ironic is that? The police union gets the video, and I don’t?
AC: You’ve said in this particular case, you have seen what kind of shielding of evidence looks like. Because you have this relationship with this case, and this police department — at what point, or is there a point where you say “you know what, the trust gap is too wide; between me and the public, between me and City Council —I can’t be an effective mayor.” Is there a point you’re looking at, or that’s out there at this point?
LW: Having been born and raised in this city, educated in this city, returned to this city, and seeing all the work we have done: Not only in the police department, but repairing our neighborhoods, and working to make sure that our children receive a quality education, making sure that our seniors are fed in this pandemic that we’re in, making sure we have investments in neighborhoods that haven’t had investments in 40-50 years; there’s more work to be done and I’m committed to doing the work. I’m committed to make sure that we get this right.
From the very beginning of being mayor, my focus has been on changing how we govern pertaining to the police department. Even way before this, when I was on City Council, looking at diversity in the police department and going out and actively recruiting many men and women of service, but I recognize diversity alone is not enough. We have much, much more work be done, and I’m committed to doing that work.
AC: The initial internal investigation says that the officers did not engage in any misconduct. You have the Locust Club president saying they followed protocol. They have not been charged yet. Do you think there are some folks out there who are rushing to judgement in this case?
LW: I think that the body worn camera speaks for itself. And when I, and members of the public look at that body worn camera video, and anyone who has seen that body worn camera video and think that’s OK, that our actions were OK there — I think that they’re wrong.
Had I had all the facts prior to, been brought up to speed like everyone else along this path had been; even in June when a lieutenant, a captain, a deputy chief says “The mayor needs to see this, the mayor needs to know this.” It goes to the corporation counsel. I receive hundreds of emails from the chief, never was the ME report given or the body worn camera given, because I can assure you — that he probably knew because of the way that I’ve handled cases in the past — had I seen that video, this would’ve been handled completely different.
AC: Going off that point, you’ve expressed your frustration over not seeing the video before August 4th. When you saw it on August 4th, how come you didn’t run over to the RASE Commission, run to City Council, and say “Look, I didn’t have the benefit of seeing this video, but you need to see it immediately.”
LW: I’ve said this before, but there are many things looking back that I would do differently, and part of this is listening to our legal counsel and our legal side. I’ve been sued four times for bringing out information to the public, for sharing information with the public, and when the legal team said this was a criminal investigation that was in front of the AG’s office and gave me the advice, I listened to that. However, I didn’t not do anything. I did something. I sent the chief an email where I explicitly talked about my frustration with the video and the fact that I had been misinformed, and that I expect to be informed whenever there is use of force within 48 and also see the video.
Within 48 hours of seeing that video I also contacted the Council President [Loretta Scott] and I was waiting for the AG’s report to come out and for them to decide whether they do criminal investigation and on top of that, in that email, I implored the chief to start internal review of this case because I did not believe that waiting was the right thing to do, so I didn’t just watch the video and walk away. I saw the video and I took decisive action that I believed that I could take. Now what I didn’t do which I apologized for, is making sure that the public and others were informed about the video.
AC: You mentioned Council President Scott, who responded last week to that back and forth with:
“Mayor Warren shared that a lawsuit had been filed against the City by the family of a man who died in the hospital under police custody. I was told the individual was high on PCP and had died of an overdose. At no point was I told that there was use of force by officers and there was no mention of having seen a disturbing video. At the conclusion of this conversation, the mayor asked that this information be held in confidence for the the time being as the matter was in the hands of the attorney general.“
Do you agree with her recollection on this?
LW: I do not. And the reason I do not is because I was so appalled by this video that I remember talking about it all weekend. I was in the car with my husband, my sister — I talked about it. I was actually in the car with my sister when I actually had this conversation with her. I talked about the video. I gave her the information that had been provided to me when I saw the video. I’m not going to dispute or go back and forth with the Council President — I know what was said. I know that I was completely appalled by this video, and hurt by the fact that our officers treated Mr. Daniel Prude in this way.
But even beyond that, we brought body worn cameras here in 2017. At any point in time, and since that time, whenever information is provided, Council can at any point in time, ask for and request body worn camera video. They can ask for that on their own when they hear about situations, and some have. It is my understanding that some Council members knew in July, way before I even knew that this video showed what it showed.
To me, that shows a breakdown in how we need to work together to really build up and do the things we need to do on behalf of the citizens of Rochester, and I’m committed to getting it right and working with City Council, and the public to do the necessary review of our police department as well as our city government, to repair the damage that has been one.
AD: I obviously don’t know what was said between you and President Scott. At the same time, she has been an ally of yours, you’ve worked very closely with her. A part of me wonders, if she had heard the word homicide, or video, she might remember that. Do you think perhaps like the elevator, that just didn’t sink in?
LW: You’d have to ask her. I can only tell you what I said. I know that I was very appalled by this video and the treatment — that is not something that I would’ve left out. It is a critical piece of evidence, that I think needed to be said, and would’ve been said, and had been said to her.
For me , when I look at this, and I look at this video, and I felt the same way on August 4th as I do today — that Daniel Prude was not treated humanely and what happened top him was competently wrong. I would not have made a call about this case without making that explicitly clear.
AC: When you first came out in public to talk about this, you knew that Chief Singletary had downplayed that incident. Why at that moment did you say he’s the right man for the job?
LW: Adam, I’m a Black woman, and Chief Singletary is an African-American man. Both of us born and raised in this city. Family members in this city. I did not want to fire a Black man. And knowing the struggles that we have, and to really believe that we could get it right. That working together, that we could get this right, that we could repair this police department, we could do the things necessary, but when this report came out, and I saw all the things along the way. All the times I could’ve been contacted. All the times his own people said ‘Tell the mayor.’ And knowing what I knew, and what I was told, that this was a PCP overdose, I just couldn’t let it stand, because it was clear deception along the way, and information that could’ve been shared, but was not shared.
I could only surmise that this was done purposefully, because if the Locust Club got the video on April 2, and on April 10 you send an email to the communications department — you never attached the ME’s report, you never attached the video. In June, when your own team says “Loop the mayor in,” you send it to the corporation counsel. You don’t CC me in on a counsel email, or the communications department. All of the things that were done, I could only surmise that it was done on purpose so that I would not know. So it’s not about what was said, it’s about what wasn’t said, so I couldn’t take decisive action as the mayor of this city.
AC: What do you think that says about the system that’s been set up for seven years under your administration that this could happen?
LW: The system has been broken longer than seven years. We’ve been working very hard to undo the system that has always had a system for Black people and a system for white people. We’ve been working very hard to undo that. I thought that diversifying the police department, that would make it better, but what I know now is that this situation is pervasive. More needs to be done, and we have to take a deep dive, we have to make sure that we are not seeing these cases through the lens of the badge, but through the lens of the people that we serve.
That is what I have always done, and if you look back at my track record, and the things that I have stood for — remember, we wouldn’t know what happened to Daniel Prude if it hadn’t been for me, Lovely Warren, insisting that we bring body cameras to this city and putting them on our cops. Against what the union wanted. You just heard Van White talking about a case on Dewey Avenue in 2020. Similar to this, we didn’t have body cameras then. We may never know what happened to that gentlemen. But today, we know exactly what happened to Daniel Prude, and we know what happened to Daniel Prude because I was the one who brought body cameras here to this city, so that we cannot shield, we cannot hide from the truth. We face it, we deal with it, and we do the things necessary to correct it.
AC: One of the demands that are out there from the Black Lives Matter groups is the reallocation of funds to allow for special teams designed for non-violent offenses or mental health crises — do you support that reallocation of funds?
LW: Yes, and actually today, yesterday, City Council passed a resolution that we’ve been working on for over a year with the gun violence coalition. Today the Commissioner of Recreation and Youth Services announced that FACIT will be moving over to respond to these types of cases. We’ll have two teams, one for gun violence and one for mental health calls. We’re working very, very hard to change how we do things.
When you know there’s a problem, you have an obligation to fix it. Here, not having all the information, not having all the facts, never being fully aware — I never had an opportunity to act, but I can assure you that I would have. And now we are doing the things necessary to make sure this never happens to another citizen in our city again.
AC: Should that reallocation happen with the police department’s budget?
LW: Those dollars were moved from the police department’s budget into the Department of Youth and Recreation services, and we will continue to look at the police department’s budget and make the changes to ensure that our community is correctly and safely served.
AC: Let’s say these protests don’t stop. It’s going to get colder, but let’s say they don’t stop — is the city, given everything else the city has to do, prepared to handle a prolonged protest?
LW: Everyone has a right to gather peacefully and I believe that we will do what need to do to make sure that happens and it’s not impeding on other citizens and people’s rights, and so others can enjoy our city. We have to work together to come to, how do we make Daniel Prude’s life and his death mean something? How do we make the changes, based on the information that we have now? When I look at all the documentation, and I read the report, there are a number of systematic changes that we need to make.
I also know that there are a number of things police officers are doing that they shouldn’t be doing, that they’re not trained to do, and we need to look at that. There are other things we need to do as a city to make sure our residents are getting the support that they need. That’s why we’re focusing on affordable housing and creating safer and more vibrant neighborhoods. There’s a lot more work to be done. I’m committed to work with the advocates and with this community to do what we need to do to move forward together, because we’re stronger together.
AC: Have you thought about demonstrating with the protesters? We’ve seen that with the mayor in Portland and some other places.
LW: I have thought about it. At this point in time I’ve sat down with the protesters to really get an understanding on where are we going. When you have a clear understanding of what’s next and what changes need to be made, we’re going to do that. It’s about doing the work. Since I was on City Council, becoming mayor, I’ve worked to really change this city to make it better for all that live here. And we’ve done a lot of good work.
And we’ve gotten some things wrong. And those things we got wrong, like this, I’m committed to making sure that we fix it. But I’m also going to elevate the great work that the 3,000 employees do in the City of Rochester do every day. To picking up trash, to making sure our streets are plowed, to building affordable housing, to making sure we make the investments we need to make. We’re going to do that, but we’re also going to fix this pervasive problem we have in our police department.
AC: This obviously comes at a time that we’re getting reports of a grand jury hearing, case about campaign finance issues. We’ve only seen reports. Your lawyer says he is yet to hear anything from the DA’s office, is that still the case?
LW: You’d have to talk to my lawyer about that. However, I saw this thing about Scott Gaddy who pleaded guilty to punching an elderly woman in the face, and also pleaded guilty to bribery. He’s not of good moral character, and I do not think that he is somebody who can be trusted, and it’s obvious based on his track record, that he can’t be.
AC: Is he going to be involved in this?
LW: I have no idea. I have no idea Adam.
AC: And you haven’t received any subpoenas or anything like that at this point?
LW: I have not received any subpoenas. They have subpoenaed different records from different people, but I myself have not received a subpoena.
AC: And you’ve called this a witch hunt in the past, do you still stand by that?
LW: That’s for the public to decide. I think in talking with my lawyers, we will go through the legal process, and I can’t give a whole lot of information at this point in time, but I assure you that we will vigorously defend whatever comes our way.
I said earlier that we are in very challenging and interesting times. Having lived in our community and been born and raised here, educated here, come back to serve. I love our city, as a mother of daughter that’s growing up here. I want her and her peers to know that I am committed to making this city the best city it can be for the next generation, and the generation after that. The work that I’ve done thus far shows that, and I’m committed to the things that we haven’t done to make sure that we get it right. That we do the deep dive. That we make sure that not another person suffers the way Daniel Prude suffered in our city.
A federal civil lawsuit filed from the Prude family against the City of Rochester alleges there was an internal cover-up. Aside from Singletary, several other high-ranking members within the RPD’s command staff have also announced retirements.
Seven Rochester police officers have been suspended with pay in connection to the incident: Officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri.
Protests have been ongoing in Rochester since the news broke September 2.