'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.