Rochester Mayor Fires Police Chief Before He Retires

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Sep 15, 2020

Rochester, N.Y.’s democratic Mayor Lovely Warren, a Black woman, didn’t wait for the recently retired Rochester Police Department (RPD) chief La’Ron Singletary to actually retire (which Singletary announced on September 8). On September 14, Mayor Warren announced Singletary’s termination, a full two weeks before the official retirement date, the New York Times reports.

As Colorlines previously reported, Singletary landed in the national hot seat once police bodycam video showing the events leading up to the March death of Daniel Prude, became public and sparked allegations of a coverup. When Singletary announced his resignation, he said he was doing so to “not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character.”

According to the Mayor’s release, the decision to let Singletary go as quickly as possible and to suspend two additional RPD leaders without pay for 30 days, came as a result of a preliminary report prepared by Deputy Mayor James P. Smith. Much of what Smith found and shared in his 10-page report troubled him deeply, including one of many observations he called the “The Lens of the Badge,” writing:

The records reveal a culture of insularity, acceptance and, quite frankly, callousness that permeates the Rochester Police Department: From the cavalier and unsympathetic attitude displayed by the officers present at the MHA; to the investigators in the Major Crimes Unit and the Professional Standards Section who seemingly saw nothing wrong after reviewing the Body Worn Camera (BWC) footage; to the Police Chief and his command staff who continued to describe the death of Mr. Prude as the result of an overdose and “resisting 3 arrest,” even after the Medical Examiner ruled it a homicide and the video showed Mr. Prude did NOT resist his arrest.  

After reviewing Smith’s report, which includes an annotated timeline and supporting documents, Warren noted that the RPD’s police culture problem led to Prude’s death, which she believes wasn’t taken seriously. “This initial look has shown what so many have suspected, that we have a pervasive problem in the Rochester Police Department,” said Warren. “One that views everything through the eyes of the badge and not the citizens we serve. It shows that Mr. Prude’s death was not taken as seriously as it should have been by those who reviewed the case throughout City government at every level.”

Warren is also asking for a citywide investigation into employees, including herself, to determine any wrongdoing, as well as for the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to look into possible civil rights violations. But according to The Times, the family said yesterday that Warren’s response and information about Prude’s case came too slowly.

“It is outrageous that the city refused to produce these documents to us and that we are seeing them for the first time today,” Prude family lawyer Elliot Shields said. Moreover, Shields said the mayor’s statement "ring hollow," telling the Times, “We still have no assurances that she is actually committed to bringing systemic reforms in the RPD.”