'Make Him A Suspect:' Documents Show Rochester PD's Response To Officers' Killing Of An Unarmed Black Man

from the creative-writing-skills-officers-thought-they-wouldn't-need-in-the-real-worl dept

Before the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin touched off protests across the nation, the Rochester (NY) Police Department was dealing with a potential tinderbox of its own. Unfortunately for Daniel Prude -- the mentally ill man restrained to death by officers -- no bystanders recorded the incident as it unfolded. Instead, documents released to Prude's family show the Rochester PD worked with the city to keep this damning information hidden for as long as possible.

The body camera footage and documentation of the incident was buried by government employees, withheld for months under the moronic claim that releasing them would result in "misinterpretation" by members of the public. Police officials already knew how bad things were. Captain Frank Umbrino noted in an email that releasing the recordings of the killing of Prude would have "intense ramifications." The Deputy Chief, Mark Simmons, felt the same way. Deputy Chief Simmons claimed the public was too stupid to be trusted with this information.

"We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions and conflate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationally," Simmons wrote in an email. "That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blow back in this community as a result."

There was only one false narrative in place, though -- one that was swiftly generated by police officers and officials to turn a wrongful killing into a possibly-justified homicide. This -- from the 325 pages of documents [PDF] released by the city to the Prude family's lawyer -- is pretty difficult to misinterpret.

"Make him a suspect." But of what? The original incident report detailed no suspected criminal activity. Daniel Prude was suffering from a mental health crisis when officers accosted him. He was naked and claimed he had the coronavirus. He told officers to give him a gun. Officers responded by placing a spit hood over his face. One officer then pressed Prude's hood-covered face into the asphalt and held it there until Prude stopped breathing. Two other officers held down Prude as well, placing their weight on his legs and back. Prude was declared brain dead by EMS personnel shortly after they responded from the scene. He was removed from life support six days later.

Once Rochester PD officials realized what they were dealing with -- the killing of an unarmed (and naked) Black man -- the narrative was altered and the city lent its assistance to the cover-up.

A new report was created. This one claimed Prude was a burglary suspect.

The original report stated officers intended to detain Prude under the state's mental hygiene law. The second report attempted to tie him to a broken window at a nearby business. But the recordings of the incident don't show officers approaching Prude as a criminal suspect. Only the second set of paperwork -- prompted by a handwritten note to "make him a suspect" -- describes Prude as a criminal suspect. This was the best the cops to do to cover up a very questionable incident. Then the PD leaned on the city's legal reps to help keep this hidden.

Rochester Police Chief La'Ron Singletary asked the city's lawyer to help the PD withhold the body camera recordings of Prude's killing for as long as possible. The first move was to abuse FOIA law. The Prude family's FOIA request for the recordings was denied by the PD, which claimed the recordings were part of an investigation, making them exempt from disclosure. The municipal attorney, Stephanie Prince, dragged things out longer by adding the Assistant Attorney General to the mix. A show of very selective transparency was used to delay the public release of these videos for another nine weeks.

In the email, Prince said Sommers had suggested a solution to avoid making the video public: Sommers was to invite Don Thompson, one of Prude's lawyers, to her office to view the footage on the condition that he not be given a copy of his own.

"This way, the City is not releasing anything pertaining to the case for at least a month (more like 2), and it will not be publicly available," Prince wrote, explaining that the file would require "heavy redacting," in part because Prude was naked. "After receiving the below I reached out to (Sommers) and asked her to hold off on contacting Don Thompson until I got back to you."

Prude's family didn't receive the recordings until mid-August. These were released three weeks later. The blow back" the Deputy Chief feared would accompany release of the videos has materialized. But it isn't because the public "misinterpreted" the content of the recordings. They showed exactly what happened during the arrest. And that's what Rochester residents -- who have engaged in protests since the release of the recordings -- are reacting to.

The PD and the city knew exactly how this would be received by the public, even before George Floyd's killing became a nationwide flash point. And when confronted with a crisis of their own making, city and PD officials decided to sacrifice their own credibility -- along with their relationship with the people they serve -- to stave off the inevitable for a few months.

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Filed Under: daniel prude, foia, frank umbrino, la'ron singletary, mark simmons, new york, police, rochester, stephanie prince, transparency


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  • identicon
    David, 24 Sep 2020 @ 4:02am

    Tip of the iceberg

    When someone writes "Make him a suspect" on an incident report, that means that there is a chain of recipients not needing further instructions in order to make it so.

    This really needs the feds to step in and confiscate the entire stack of files in the office and look for similar instructions conveniently matching the outcome.

    And the people who write such notes and act on such notes need a different job, possibly after serving appropriate jail time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 4:43am

      Re: Tip of the iceberg

      "This really needs the feds to step in and confiscate the entire stack of files in the office and look for similar instructions conveniently matching the outcome."

      Unfortunately the feds have stepped in. People who were peacefully protesting, standing well aside from a peaceful protest, sitting down in a peaceful protest, or on their own porch can attest to that.

      It's pretty clear that any federal authority walking in on a fact-finding mission has good odds of coming out and declaring even the farts of the Rochester PD personnel smells like roses, while a convenient bonfire out back deals with any paper trail "falsely" suggesting the contrary.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 8:32am

        'If you won't do it we will' is never a pretty picture

        ... which, funnily enough, simply adds fuel to the fire that is 'people pissed off that killers are allowed to walk free so long as they have a badge'.

        As I've noted for years courts and politicians may think that they are doing police a favor by refusing to hold them accountable for anything but they are in fact painting huge targets on their backs, because when people realize that the 'official channels' will not protect people's rights and lives and are instead only interested in protecting those violating and ending them, that's when you get people pissed off enough to start torching cars and buildings, taking matters into their own hands because that's seen as the only chance they have to see any sort of real punishment levied out.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Samuel Abram (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 9:14am

          Re: 'If you won't do it we will' is never a pretty picture

          when people realize that the 'official channels' will not protect people's rights and lives and are instead only interested in protecting those violating and ending them, that's when you get people pissed off enough to start torching cars and buildings, taking matters into their own hands because that's seen as the only chance they have to see any sort of real punishment levied out.

          Or as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it: "A Riot is the Language of the Unheard".

          President John Fitzgerald Kennedy echoed similar sentiments: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable."

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            David, 24 Sep 2020 @ 5:06pm

            Re: Re: 'If you won't do it we will' is never a pretty picture

            Or as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it: "A Riot is the Language of the Unheard".

            That's why it is so shortsighted of the Republicans that they want to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg with a stock conservative judge.

            They already had a majority of conservative judges. RBG was sort of a godsent for them because she gave minorities (not just women) a voice without giving them a majority.

            They could play the magnanimity card (well, at least the not-total-hypocrites-about-Garland card) and leave the replacement to the next administration, retaining a conservative majority in the SCOTUS while avoiding increased civil unrest among an impression that a significant of the populace is utterly lacking representation and consideration.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 25 Sep 2020 @ 12:25am

              Re: Re: Re: 'If you won't do it we will' is never a pretty pictu

              They could play the magnanimity card (well, at least the not-total-hypocrites-about-Garland card) and leave the replacement to the next administration, retaining a conservative majority in the SCOTUS while avoiding increased civil unrest among an impression that a significant of the populace is utterly lacking representation and consideration.

              They could, but that would require honesty and restraint in not grabbing any possible source of power no matter the cost, which at this point are very clearly not just beyond them but not even desired.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Sep 2020 @ 1:05am

              Re: Re: Re: 'If you won't do it we will' is never a pretty pictu

              "They could play the magnanimity card (well, at least the not-total-hypocrites-about-Garland card) and leave the replacement to the next administration, retaining a conservative majority in the SCOTUS while avoiding increased civil unrest..."

              I think todays republicans know all this.

              And they don't care. They don't want a mere majority with magnanimity. They want liberals thrown to the curb and stomped on until said liberals stop squeaking. THAT is what the US citizens electing the current crop of republican politicians want and demand.

              And that's why every republican who swore to high heaven to vote against replacing a SCOTUS judge close to an election when Obama tried to do it, has now gone 180 degrees on those televised promises.

              "That's why it is so shortsighted of the Republicans..."

              Not really, no. They want the battle lines drawn. They want more conflict. Because they are at the point right now where the only policy the republican party has is to point at their political adversaries and scream Behold! The Enemy!".

              This was made clear under the Republican National Convention when they saw fit not to even issue a platform for the 2020 elections, instead going with the one they had under 2016 (which ironically says that the current president is a spawn of Satan who has moved the US to the brink of ruin) and a long line of rhetoric about how the democrats would forcibly house murderers and child molesters in the house next door to you and let terrorists, rapists and drug dealers roam the streets unopposed.

              I'm not kidding. Listen to a few soundbites from that shit-show. It's less of a political convention so much as a congregation dedicated to lunacy, fear and hatred.

              Republican only have one card left to play and they're playing it for all it's worth. Setting one part of the citizenry against the other and fanning the flames as much as they can.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Narcissus (profile), 25 Sep 2020 @ 2:13am

              Re: Re: Re: 'If you won't do it we will' is never a pretty pictu

              That's why it is so shortsighted of the Republicans that they want to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg with a stock conservative judge.

              Not only that. So, the upside for them is minimal, they go from a majority to a larger majority. However, if they make it part of the election they might rile up their base to go voting. I'm pretty sure there is a voter group out there that would hold their nose and vote for Trump again if they could be sure to overturn Roe v. Wade for example.

              That and they could maintain a semblance of integrity although that does not seem to be a high priority.

              Makes you wonder if they're already convinced they're going to lose...

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 25 Sep 2020 @ 11:16am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: 'If you won't do it we will' is never a pretty p

                overturn Roe v. Wade for example.

                Of course, it must be SCOTUS that decides the decades old issue of abortion. After all the people in the US Senate with the power to create the legislation that SCOTUS enforces can't be seen as responsible for the making the decision......

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  David, 25 Sep 2020 @ 1:00pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 'If you won't do it we will' is never a pret

                  Any law that can be made can as easily be unmade. They want to have abortion (or rather its prohibition) tied into a constitutional principle such that laws differing from their standpoint can be struck down as unconstitutional.

                  And indeed it seems inappropriate to flip legislation on such a matter back and forth every four years when they clearly are intertwined with matters of life and death and control over one's own body and thus fundamentally connected to constitutional considerations.

                  So I can understand that they don't see a point in trying to cover this with lower-level legislation when clearly the constitutionality of such legislation will frequently be called to the Supreme Court's attention and the Supreme Court will definitely, because of its importance, weigh in on it.

                  But loading the Supreme Court with a supermajority representing a popular minority of presidential votes and a popular minority of constituents represented by the Senate seems like the system of democratic representation in the U.S. is making the Founders' ideas of how to balance stability and representation fit the current political landscape worse and worse.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 28 Sep 2020 @ 6:50am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 'If you won't do it we will' is never a pret

                  "...the people in the US Senate with the power to create the legislation that SCOTUS enforces ..."

                  That's wrong. The senate only holds the power to draft legislation SCOTUS can enforce if what they drafted is a constitutional amendment. It clearly demonstrates how hard that is to swing that very few such amendments exist as compared to the eagerness which both sides have shown to rewrite that document.

                  Hence abortion, for which neither side has gained the relevant majority, ever, keeps falling on SCOTUS to interpret whether the 14th amendment does or does not protect a woman's right to her body.

                  Honestly, to me it sounds like the US is stuck in the 18th century for even still arguing the question, but it is what it is.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    Uriel-238 (profile), 28 Sep 2020 @ 11:28am

                    The Roman Catholic Church

                    It's the Roman Catholic Church that is in the 14th century.

                    Our Originalist Federalist Society Justices on SCOTUS are all staunch right-wing Catholic. (Sotomayor is also Catholic but she seems to be able to internally separate faith from state). Right now there's five. Soon there will be a sixth, one Hypnotoad-visit away from another Bush v. Gore ruling.

                    Many mostly-Catholic nations (largely in South America) are still under Church stranglehold, and will occasionally criminalize the abortion of a twelve-year-old getting an abortion rather than bear her father's child. (Some get flown to other nations for the procedure. Doctors get excommunicated. The rapist father does not. It's messy.)

                    Ireland in the last decade finally decriminalized Abortion access so...baby steps of progress.

                    Fun facts: 90%+ of Catholic Women in the United States and Europe accept the use of contraception and abortion as normal. Considering the 80% of Catholic American women that voted for Trump, there's a large cross section.

                    According to the Guttmacher Institute about 33% of abortions in the US are performed on to women who are opposed to abortion access (but their circumstances are special) and who belong to churches that oppose abortion access.

                    The USCCB is profoundly more conservative than even the CDF (aka the Holy Inquisition) which is profoundly more conservative than the Holy See (And Pope Francis says a lot of lefty things that are hypothetical and not enacted in practice. But they make the flock squee when he says them.) The Roman Catholic Church is a far reach from a united front.

                    Everyone in the RCC seems to be way more concerned about what women are allowed to do, and how to get LGBT+ folk back in the closet than, say, the War on Poverty and the War on Hunger.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 3:10am

                      Re: The Roman Catholic Church

                      "Fun facts: 90%+ of Catholic Women in the United States and Europe accept the use of contraception and abortion as normal. Considering the 80% of Catholic American women that voted for Trump, there's a large cross section."

                      Well, it's not exactly new that religious people are more than likely to wake up saying "Wait, this will apply to ME as well?" in confusion. The people who write the script of "a handmaid's tale" forgot to mention that catholic women would have been the first in line to vote for their rights as human beings abolished.

                      "According to the Guttmacher Institute about 33% of abortions in the US are performed on to women who are opposed to abortion access..."

                      I wish I could say I was surprised but...no. Not really. The belief in abstinence as sole method of birth control has never worked well. Apparently when the people behind the "Purity Ring" concept started to offer re-implemented virginity in exchange for sincere contrition it came as a total surprise that saying "I regret having sex" doesn't, in fact, prevent pregnancy.

                      That's the point where both daughter and parents weigh the burden of an unwanted child against their principles and choose to "regretfully" shoulder the "burden" they deny others.

                      Ah, religion. Systematic and standardized hypocrisy at its finest.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Khym Chanur (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 4:19am

    I'm surprised that they didn't "accidentally" erase the body cam footage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 4:20am

    If the feds step in, it will only be to offer advice on how better to mislead the public without getting caught.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 4:48am

      Re:

      "If the feds step in, it will only be to offer advice on how better to mislead the public without getting caught."

      Advise like "Just shoot him with 'less lethal' ammunition a few times and claim he was about to embark on a violent antifan rampage", you mean?
      Admittedly that is easier to mislead the public with than placing a knee to his neck and pile officers on top of him until he stops breathing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2020 @ 5:27am

    "The body camera footage and documentation of the incident was buried by government employees, withheld for months under the moronic claim that releasing them would result in "misinterpretation" by members of the public."

    Something else that members of the public misunderstand is when politicians talk of this Law and Order stuff.

    Many in the public see law 'n order as signifying equal justice under the law, where everyone is afforded their day in court and due process is a given.
    Politicians on the other hand, see law 'n order as just another bullshit phrase to toss at the wall in the hopes that something sticks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2020 @ 7:43am

      Re:

      Not so sure about that. For too many the "order" in "law and order" means keeping the undesirables in their place (and especially far from "decent young women") while the "Law" means LEOs to make sure "order" is enforced. Corruption in LEOs is OK, so long as it is mostly or overwhelmingly affects those "undesirables" and is aimed at keeping them in their place. It's all a code. When the politician says "I'm a law and order candidate" he (usually he) means "I'll keep them ****s down for you". Which is what his supporters want to hear and they flock to his banner.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 11:18pm

      Re:

      public misunderstand is when politicians talk of this Law and Order stuff

      That is OK. THe ``right'' people understand it as the dog-whistle from the Nixon southern strategy. You preach ``law and order'', and people understand quite well that it means keeping the uppity darker-complected folks in their place.

      It works, too. Enough KKK/Wallace voters switched to the Republican party to give Nixon the presidency. In return, he helped with things like oddly-skewed drug laws, because certain substances were more closely associated with persons of darker complexion.

      Of course such facially neutral but disparately impacting laws were nothing new even in the Nixon days. We have laws felonizing agricultural theft for pretty much the same reason, and just happen to disenfranchise felons for life.

      I believe one of the candidates for president is using that same dog-whistle this year. And, of course, Florida's governor is doing the same thing to position himself and his party for 2022.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Sep 2020 @ 7:35am

        Re: Re:

        "THe right'' people understand it as the dog-whistle from the Nixon southern strategy. You preachlaw and order'', and people understand quite well that it means keeping the uppity darker-complected folks in their place."

        I did wonder about that feeling of Déja vú I was having.

        US history is a long, unbroken line of racial tension where every ten or twenty years some shit goes down which is bad enough to have politicians on one side mouth the proper platitudes to calm the raging waters while the politicians on the other side of the aisle promise to bring back the good ol' days when uppity black people done get shown their proper place.

        What really amazes me is how many americans keep getting surprised every time a Ferguson or Minnesota happens. Hell, the Tulsa massacre is almost forgotten, and only weathered historians recall Newark 1967. The Miami riots in the 80's, Rodney King in the 90's and the Cincinnati riots in 2001...The list keeps growing longer and yet all too many americans just keep proving MLK and Malcolm X right when they said their famous lines, respectively, about good people doing nothing and about well-intentioned liberals remaining willfully blind at any cost.

        "We have laws felonizing agricultural theft for pretty much the same reason, and just happen to disenfranchise felons for life."

        There's such a vast body of american legislation written to explicitly target demographics with the intent of removing them from voter rolls that by now the downward spiral of racial tension and inequality seems an inherent aspect of the US legal system as a whole.

        "I believe one of the candidates for president is using that same dog-whistle this year."

        It seems to be more or less all he has. Ironically he's now being uncharacteristically truthful as the 2016 platform he decided to run on specifically point out the current president as the source of all evils to befall America.

        We'll all have to hope Hindenburg...I mean Biden wins 2020 and does a lot better job than we can reasonably expect him to, given his prior record. Or 2024 might see an entirely new sort of candidate appearing for the GOP - one who'll use a bullhorn rather than a dog-whistle to announce his view on uppity black people.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 7:55am

    Isn't it obvious by now...

    Law Enforcement is the largest terrorist organization in the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 8:20am

    'We could do that, but we REALLY like murder so...'

    If police departments want to 'avoid misinterpretation' there's a really easy way to do so: Release the gorram evidence and let people decide, engage in honest investigations into what happened and release that info as well, and if it ends up with you looking bad maybe that's on you.

    As it stands there is no room for 'misinterpretation' here, as the department has made crystal clear not only that they employ cold-blooded killers but that they will go out of their way to hide that, showing that they're not to be trusted, ever, to tell the truth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Sep 2020 @ 2:30pm

    Because everyone knows that a ... uh ... naked ... burglary suspect, accused of breaking a window, is due some summary execution.

    The fact that they find making him a suspect to be a reasonable mitigation for murder says a hell of a lot about their culture, and our culture as a whole.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    restless94110 (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 7:59pm

    Killinig

    Tim, Tim, Tim.

    Floyd died from an overdose. The autopsy was clear. He wasn't killed. Why, Tim? Why are you so unable to speak truth to power?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 24 Sep 2020 @ 11:52pm

      Re: Killinig

      You post this false statement every time Floyd is mentioned. And every time we point out that it is false. Two separate autopsies concluded he was killed because of the cops sitting on his neck.

      You are misreading one autopsy. This has been pointed out to you at least half a dozen times.

      Why do you keep coming back and repeating falsehoods?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Sep 2020 @ 1:14am

        Re: Re: Killinig

        "Why do you keep coming back and repeating falsehoods?"

        Because it's pretty obvious "Restless94110" is deliberately repeating that falsehood in the vague hope that if he repeats it enough, someone will fall for it.

        Looking at his long comment history you find nothing but thinly veiled or obvious racism defended and exculpated with the idea that apparently black men are suicidal superhumans able to give themselves lethal doses of drugs which somehow stay dormant for hours until a police tries to arrest them at which point they suddenly experience the overdose and die. And that every coroner is flat-out lying about that fact because Antifa.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 25 Sep 2020 @ 4:36pm

    Crazies are like blacks preferred quarry of trigger-happy law enforcement. So it makes sense the technique of turning someone into a suspect post hoc would follow, much like lending a corpse a gun to justify turning him into one.

    But this makes it look routine.

    We already know police can murder suspects with low risk of impunity, and now they have the tool to turn anyone into a suspect. How often is this tool used?

    We need more data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2020 @ 11:12pm

    What would be really shocking...

    ... is if the documents showed any efforts by the PD to stop screwups like that from happening again.

    What's also shocking is that the above comment doesn't even seem cynical. Just plain realism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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