Independent investigator: City officials, RPD made ‘untrue statements’ in Prude case

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — An attorney hired to independently investigate the City of Rochester’s handling of the Daniel Prude case concluded Friday the city "suppressed" information from getting to the public and made "untrue statements."

Andrew Celli, who was hired by City Council, released that conclusion as part of an 84-page report which detailed his firm’s findings through its roughly six-month investigation. In it, Celli concludes, in part:

"In the final analysis, the decision not to publicly disclose these facts rested with Mayor Warren, as the elected Mayor of the City of Rochester. But Mayor Warren alone is not responsible for the suppression of the circumstances of the Prude Arrest and Mr. Prude’s death. In his internal communications with the Mayor, the Law Department, and the Communications Bureau in April 2020, Chief Singletary disclosed but consistently deemphasized the role of police restraints in the death of Daniel Prude, and his statements did not capture the disturbing tenor of the entire encounter. Chief Singletary’s characterization of the Prude Arrest likely impacted how the City officials he informed of the matter viewed what had occurred."

You can view the summary of the report below.

Statment From Special Council Investigator Andrew G. Celli by News10NBC on Scribd

Prude was not breathing and had no pulse after he was restrained and handcuffed by officers in March of 2020. He died seven days later in the hospital after being taken off life support. The Medical Examiner ruled his death a homicide and says Prude died from complications of asphyxia due to physical restraint, excited delirium and PCP. Prude’s death didn’t become public knowledge until early September. Body camera video released from the scene on Jefferson Avenue shows Prude naked in the street in March 2020.

In December, the City of Rochester’s Office of Public Integrity released its report, saying it found "no evidence" that any city employee violated any "policies or ethical standards" in Prude’s death.

Celli deposed both Mayor Warren, and Chief Singletary, among others, Singletary’s deposition was live-streamed to the public in January. Celli included documents related to those depositions, among pages on his firm’s website. In a statement at the time, the city claims Singletary told the mayor that everything had been done "by the book".

In February, New York State Attorney General Tish James announced the seven Rochester Police officers involved in Prude’s case would not face any criminal charges. City Council is pushing for the officers to be disciplined, and possibly even fired

Prude’s five children have filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit, court documents showed Monday.

While Celli’s conclusion described suppression, he followed up with:

"Lastly, it is important to note that the decision whether to inform the public of a significant event by way of an announcement or other form of notification is a policy judgment, and a political one, not a legal one. There are no written rules or standards in Rochester that govern the conduct of the Mayor, members of the City Council, or high appointed officials like the Chief of Police or the Corporation Counsel in these matters. Accordingly, it is not for the Special Council Investigator to pass judgment on whether the decisions by Rochester officials not to disclose the arrest and death of Daniel Prude were right or wrong. The judges of that question are the citizens of the City of Rochester and the public at large."

Warren issued the following statement regarding the report:

"I welcome today’s report because it allows our community to move forward. Throughout City government, we have acknowledged our responsibility, recognized that changes are necessary and taken action. By creating our Person In Crisis teams, calling for the right to fire officers for cause, and reforming our FOIL and Body-Worn Camera processes, we are doing the work this moment demands.

Now, we must go even further and honor Daniel Prude by fully addressing our challenges regarding policing, mental health treatment and systemic inequality. I remain committed to doing this work along with City Council. It lies at the heart of the Equity and Recovery Agenda and the Executive Order 203 reforms I have proposed. Ultimately, we will prevent tragedies by ensuring that every person’s life is valued and has the opportunity to reach its fullest potential. We can achieve this by providing safe and quality housing, a quality education, and a job that provides dignity. By doing so, we will create a Rochester that provides equity and opportunity for everyone."

The Rochester Police Locust Club released the following statement:

"The Rochester Police Locust Club will thoroughly review the 84 page report issued by Andrew Celli, and we will comment on it, if and when we feel it is appropriate to do so."

Carrie H. Cohen, Morrison & Foerster, Special Independent Counsel to the City of Rochester released the following statement:

"I have served as Special Independent Counsel to the City of Rochester administration in connection with the City Council’s investigation into the City’s response to Daniel Prude’s death. As such, I attended, or read the transcripts of, every deposition taken by the City Council’s Special Independent Counsel and had access to essentially the same evidence as Mr. Celli and team in this matter.

"Having reviewed the City Council’s Special Independent Counsel’s report upon its release this morning, it is most notable that the City Council’s Special Counsel did not find any evidence that any City employee, outside of former Police Chief Singletary, acted with ill-intent to hide or cover-up the circumstances related to the death of Mr. Prude or to intentionally deceive the public in any way. The elected officials and public servants involved in this matter made their best efforts to make decisions in real time based on the information that was made available to them and that, according to the City Council’s Special Counsel, was intentionally obscured by former Police Chief Singletary.

"There is one conclusion in the report, however, to which I am compelled to respond: the false assertion that Mayor Warren made untrue statements to the public regarding Mr. Prude’s death. At all times, Mayor Warren spoke based on the facts known to her at the time and to the extent those facts were misleading in any way, that is a direct result of the misleading way in which former Chief Singletary relayed information to the Mayor.

"Lastly, the City already has put in place a number of policy reforms and initiatives to hopefully improve internal communications and specifically address some of the issues identified in the report. It is my sincere hope that the City continues to learn and heal and that Mr. Prude’s family continues to be blessed by his memory.”

Councilmember Mary Lupien released the following statement:

"This report shows that the Mayor, Corporation Counsel and the Police Chief all knowingly concealed the Daniel Prude homicide from the public by illegally denying the release of the body worn camera footage in FOIL requests beginning on April 3, 2020 and falsely claiming the Attorney General’s Executive Order 147 precluded them from releasing information to the public.

"It is important for me to be open and transparent about my own knowledge of Daniel Prude’s case before September 2nd, 2020 and my motivations for not disclosing that information. I have also discussed my prior knowledge with several news outlets around the time of my subpoena for City Council’s independent investigation.

"In July 2020, a lawyer for the Prude family, Elliot Dolby-Shields, confided in me that the brother of his client had been killed while in custody. Mr. Shields told me he was working with the victim’s family and local Black Lives Matter activists to release the body worn camera footage on their own terms as soon as the City made it available. I was emailed the body worn camera footage on August 27th and viewed it on August 31st at which point I was told the public release was imminent.

"I felt it would have been a breach of trust to share this information, either publicly or privately with colleagues, before Daniel Prude’s family and Black Lives Matter organizers had the opportunity to do so. As the report states, “(iii) [Lupien] was concerned that, if she alerted other City officials, the Mayoral Administration might seek to preempt the family and the activists’ release of the BWC footage in order to, in her words, “control the narrative” around the incident.”

"Mr. Prude’s family and organizers deserved the right to release the footage on their own terms and without interference from city officials, who in this report are shown to have engaged in efforts to thwart the video release and to downplay the role of police officers in Prude’s homicide. Moreover, as this report has taught us, these fears were not unfounded. The Mayor, Police Chief and Corporation Counsel engaged in a pattern of attempts to stymie efforts by the Prude family to bring their case to the public. In fact, the report highlights Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin remonstrating his own staff for releasing the video."

News10NBC has reached out to several city officials along with the Rochester Police Department, but they have not yet commented on Celli’s findings.

Read the report in its entirety below.

Celli Final Report by News10NBC on Scribd