In early June after the death of George Floyd, cities were erupting in protests against police brutality. In Rochester, the streets were calm, but behind closed doors, police and city officials were growing anxious. A Black man, Daniel Prude, died of suffocation in March after police officers had placed his head in a hood and pinned him to the ground. The public had not been told about the death; that would change if police body camera footage of the encounter got out. “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,” a deputy Rochester police chief told his boss. “That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blowback in this community as a result.”
The June 4 note was in a mass of city documents released on Monday that show how Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and other prominent officials did everything in their power to keep the troubling videos of the incident out of public view, and to prevent damaging fallout from Prude’s death. Dozens of emails, police reports and internal reviews reveal an array of delay tactics — from citing hospital privacy laws to blaming an overworked employee’s backlog in processing videos — used in that mission, the New York Times reports. The documents show how the police attempted to frame the narrative in the earliest hours, playing up Prude’s potential for danger and glossing over the tactics of the officers who pinned him, naked and hooded, to the ground before he stopped breathing. Mayor Lovely Warren suspended seven officers involved in the encounter. Lovely cited a 323-page internal review of Prude’s death and the city’s actions in the ensuing months in her decision to fire Singletary.