A former Rochester police chief who was fired in connection with the department’s response to the death of Daniel Prude revealed the city’s mayor pushed him to lie about her handling of the investigation – and claimed he was ousted when he refused to do so, recently filed court papers show.
"I repeatedly refused to lie for Mayor Warren."
La’Ron Singletary, who was fired from the Rochester Police Department (RPD) in September shortly after announcing his plans to retire, on Wednesday filed a notice of claim with the Monroe Court Clerk’s office announcing his intention to sue Mayor Lovely Warren and the city for defamation of character, the creation of a hostile work environment and his "wrongful and retaliatory termination," according to the documents.
Singletary alleged Warren and other city officials who were acting on her behalf "impugned my performance as Chief of Police of the City of Rochester by making false statements and material omissions about my performance and discharge of duties in the matter of the treatment of Daniel Prude in the custody of the Rochester Police, his subsequent death, the internal investigations conducted by the Rochester Police Department and my communication with Mayor Warren and other city officials."
"I repeatedly refused to lie for Mayor Warren," he wrote in the court papers.
Singletary alleged that Warren urged him to omit facts and give false information to back her claim that it wasn't until months later that she learned key details of the March 23 encounter that led to Prude's death.
He wrote that Warren was especially worried that his testimony before a city council panel investigating Prude’s death would undermine her repeated assertions that the then-chief hid information from her.
Singletary wrote that those assertions, which Warren made at news conferences and in TV interviews after news of Prude’s death became public in September, were false, defamed his character and harmed his reputation as an upstanding law enforcement official.
"[T]he Mayor wanted me to portray a story that just was not true and asking (sic) that I omit certain relevant facts when I testified before the City Council investigation of the Daniel Prude matter," the court filing states.
Singletary went on to explain that during a meeting with Warren on Sept. 7, the mayor told him she would "never" ask him to lie but then urged him not to mention her knowledge that police officers were physically involved with Prude.
"The Mayor further asked me to omit the specifies of our conversation when I discussed the details of the Medical Examiner's report and instead testify that the Medical Examiner's report was mentioned only in passing and to further testify that, in hindsight, I should not have told the Mayor ‘in passing by the elevator," court papers state. "The Mayor then asked me to recite what I would say in my testimony … I had text messages and emails indicating there have been conversations and communications with the Mayor and her administration. I repeated that my integrity means too much to me and that I would never lie for anyone."
Warren said Singletary initially told her Prude’s death was a drug overdose.
Singletary wrote in his notice of claim that he told her in a text message that Prude was "likely high on PCP" but that he updated her with additional information on April 13 when the medical examiner ruled Prude’s death was a homicide.
A city spokesperson, Bridgette Burch White, said in a statement that Rochester will "fully defend taxpayers against this frivolous suit."
She added that Singletary’s version of events confirms Warren’s claim that the former chief never showed her body camera footage from the officers involved in Prude’s arrest and that she only saw it in August when a city lawyer provided it to her.
Burch White said that was "a fact that Mr. Singletary refused to acknowledge until now."
Prude, 41, died roughly one week after his early encounter with police on March 23, but his name and death did not become national news until September when a video of the incident was made public by Prude’s family.
Prude was from Chicago and traveled to Rochester on March 22 to visit his brother. According to a previously released internal affairs investigator’s report, Prude was kicked off the train before it arrived in Rochester for "his unruly behavior."
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Hours later, Prude was taken to the hospital before going to his brother's home. Around 3 a.m. on March 23, he ran out of his brother's back door.
Prude was handcuffed by police around 3:20 a.m. after his brother called police to take him back to the hospital, where he had been hours earlier.
"At around 3 a.m. Daniel was acting very strange again – he ran out my back door wearing only a tank top and some long johns," Joe Prude wrote in a supporting deposition later released in the trove of documents. "I called the police again so they could find him and take him back to the hospital."
Police located Prude soon after he allegedly went to a phone store where police believe he "threw a cinder block through the store window before being spotted by a tow truck driver." Police said the tow truck driver described Prude as being naked, covered in blood, and said he had told the driver he had the coronavirus.
Footage shows Prude naked and sitting in the street wearing a mesh covering, known as a spit hood, over his head. Over the course of the interaction, one officer can be seen pressing his knee to Prude’s back while another pushes his face to the pavement. They allegedly held Prude down for approximately two minutes, but they later realized he didn't have a pulse and began CPR.
He was taken off life support on March 30. A medical examiner concluded that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by "complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint." The report lists excited delirium and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or PCP, as contributing factors.
Singletary’s notice of claim, sent to the city on Dec. 3, was included Tuesday as an exhibit in the city council’s court petition seeking to enforce a subpoena for him to testify and provide documents for its investigation into Prude’s death.
Singletary didn’t specify the monetary damages he’s seeking from the city, but he noted that his Sept. 14 firing cost him the lifetime health benefits he would have received had he been allowed to retire on Sept. 29 as originally planned.
Also Tuesday, the city’s public integrity office issued a report concluding that it found no ethical lapses in the way Warren or senior staff responded to Prude’s death. Another probe was opened in April by the office of state Attorney General Letitia James.
Lawyers representing the seven Rochester police officers suspended with pay during an investigation into the death of Daniel Prude said in October that events leading up to the man’s death were not being portrayed fully.
At the end of October, an attorney leading a Rochester City Council investigation into Prude’s death accused Singletary of refusing to cooperate with the probe.
That same month, Warren was indicted on campaign finance charges in connection with her re-election bid.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.