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police brutality

Rochester police tried to play down Daniel Prude's killing to avoid 'violent blowback,' documents show

The Rochester, New York, police department seemingly tried to make itself look better after one of its officers killed a Black man in March.

Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, died by asphyxiation in March after Rochester police put a "spit hood" on his head and held him against the pavement; Prude was experiencing a mental heath incident. Information about the killing sparked nonstop protests when it became public in early September, but as documents the city released Monday show, that's exactly what police leaders were trying to avoid.

While Prude died in March, his case remained under wraps in early June as protests began against the death of George Floyd and other police killings of Black people. But then-Deputy Police Chief Mark Simmons was still worried about how Prude's death would be received in that climate. "I am very concerned about releasing this prematurely," he wrote in an email to then-Police Chief La'Ron Singletary. "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. That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blowback in this community as a result." Singletary wrote back quickly: "I totally agree."

The police report on Prude's killing also seemed to be manipulated to push the narrative in the police's favor. While Prude was originally listed as an "individual" on the police report describing the "victim," another officer circled that mark in red pen and wrote "make him a suspect."

Singletary resigned last week, calling claims he'd mishandled Prude's death an "attempt to destroy my character and integrity." Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren (D) fired Singletary on Monday before he was set to depart, in part citing these documents for her decision. Read more at The New York Times, and find Rochester's full release here.