Rochester unrest: Police chief, entire command staff retire

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Top senior police officials in Rochester, New York, announced their retirement from the force Tuesday after criticism of the western New York city’s handling of the suffocation death of Daniel Prude, Mayor Lovely Warren said at a news conference.

At a news conference, Warren said Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, Deputy Chief Joseph Morabito who commands the operations bureau, and Deputy Chief of Administration Mark L. Simmons were stepping down, WROC reported.

“As you all know, this has been a very challenging time for the city of Rochester, and the chief was not asked to give his resignation because I do believe that he’s giving his very best,” Warren told city council members.

Prude, 41, of Chicago, died March 30 of asphyxiation in Rochester, a week after he was pinned to the ground by police officers. The video and documents related to the case were released Wednesday by Prude’s family, which had made a public records request, WROC reported. Rochester police officers who found Prude running naked down a street put a “spit hood” over his head and then held him to the ground.

Prude’s brother had called 911 seeking help for his brother in the early morning hours of March, the television station reported.

Warren suspended seven police officers with pay after the video was released: Officers Mark Vaughn, Troy Taladay, Paul Ricotta, Francisco Santiago, Andrew Specksgoor, Josiah Harris, and Sgt. Michael Magri, WROC reported. On Saturday, New York Attorney General Letitia James said she would form a grand jury and conduct an “exhaustive investigation” into Prude’s death.

Singletary, a 20-year veteran of the Rochester Police Department, was promoted to chief by Warren in April 2019, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.

In a statement Tuesday, Singletary said he had served the community “with honor, pride, and the highest integrity.”

“As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character,” Singletary said in his statement. “The events over the past week are an attempt to destroy my character and integrity. The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for.”

Singletary, who was born and raised in Rochester, graduated from John Marshall High School in 1998, the Democrat and Chronicle reported. He joined the police department as a cadet through an internship program at Monroe Community College.

Morabito, a 34-year veteran of the force, also released a statement, saying it “has been an extreme honor” to serve in the department.

“It has also been my honor to serve this community through these many years; a community I was born and raised in, and deeply love," Morabito said. "I have often reflected on my time growing up in this city, and the many friends and neighbors who helped guide me and encouraged my decision to become an officer. I have never regretted that decision, and the people who I have had the privilege of assisting throughout my service, and will always consider my membership with the Rochester Police Department as one of the proudest achievements of my lifetime.”

Warren said she did not know if the retirements were effective immediately, WROC reported. It was not clear who would be in charge of the department if protesters take to the street for the sixth consecutive night, according to The Associated Press.

“If that retirement is effective immediately, then we will have to find that interim chief,” Warren said at the news conference. "Whoever that interim chief would be would step up and lead the department at this time. I do know that is going to be difficult at this time.”

“This is great news,” Iman Abid, speaking for Free the People ROC, told the AP. “It says to the people that people are able to move things and to shape things. The police chief wouldn’t retire if it weren’t for something that he felt he was accountable to.”