City’s lawyers and State Attorney General offer differing stories over delay in release of Prude footage

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Lawyers for the city of Rochester and the New York Attorney General’s office offered sharply differing stories Friday about whether the city was free to discuss the March death of Daniel Prude after police took him into custody.

This week, Mayor Lovely Warren announced she was suspending seven Rochester police officers and launching an internal investigation into the case. Graphic police body camera video released this week by Prude’s family shows Rochester police struggling with a naked Prude whose family had called them concerned about his mental health. The incident happened on March 23 and Prude died in the hospital a week later. When questioned about why she was addressing it publicly only months later, Warren said she following the will of investigators from the New York Attorney General’s office who had asked that information about the incident not be released lest it impair their investigation.

“In matters like this, they prefer that material not be released to the public, because they find that interferes with that investigation and made specific reference to the body-worn camera video,” explained attorney Stephanie Prince with the city’s Corporation Counsel’s office.

Mayor Warren and the city’s attorney’s repeatedly cited Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 147, signed in 2015 which mandates that deaths in police custody must be investigated by the state Attorney General.

The city’s lawyers say repeated contact with the local AG’s office reinforced that state investigators did not want information released, especially the body camera video.

But a representative for the attorney general insisted the city’s statements were factually incorrect and accused the city’s Corporation Counsel of throwing the AG’s office under the bus.

In a statement, the AG’s office says “There was never a request from the Attorney General’s Office to the city of Rochester Corporation Counsel to withhold information about the events surrounding the death of Daniel Prude”

The city’s Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin says the city had started negations on a possible settlement with Prude’s family.

“I won’t address the specifics of the settlement offer but we did discuss dollar amounts in furtherance of a settlement,” he said.
Curtin says the city left any release of any information up to Prude’s relatives until they went public this week and that, even if there were no legal restrictions, the city opted not to launch its own steps or release information first.

“The mayor can pretty much do what she wants to do,” he said. “My role as her attorney is to give her advice. And my very strong advice to her was not to make public comments. We weren’t going to release the tape. We’re going to defer to the family.”

The representative for the Attorney General declared that, under Executive Order 147, the AG’s office does about 20 to 30 investigations like this a year and said that there has never been this kind of back and forth with a city.