Rochester police commanders urged city officials to hold off on publicly releasing body camera footage of Daniel Prude’s suffocation death because they feared violent blowback if the video came out during nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd, newly released emails show.
Deputy Chief Mark Simmons cited the “current climate” in the city and the nation in a June 4 email advising then-Chief La’ron Singletary to press the city’s lawyers to deny a Prude family lawyer’s public records request for the footage of the March 23 encounter that led to his death.
The video, finally made public by Prude’s family on Sept. 4, shows Prude handcuffed and naked with a spit hood over his head as an officer pushes his face against the ground, while another officer presses a knee to his back. The officers held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. He was taken off life support a week later.
“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,” Simmons wrote. “That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blow back in this community as a result.”
The Western New York city released the emails, police reports and other documents on Monday as Mayor Lovely Warren fired Singletary and suspended Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin and Communications Director Justin Roj without pay for 30 days amid continuing fallout from Prude’s death. Simmons was named interim chief of the police department.
Simmons’ email seeking to have the city deny the Freedom of Information Law request echoed emails from other police officials worried about releasing video of the March 23 encounter as demonstrators were taking to the streets of Rochester and elsewhere to protest Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis and other police killings of Black people.
Lt. Mike Perkowski told a city lawyer on June 4 that he was “very concerned about releasing this prematurely in light of what is going on” and Capt. Frank Umbrino told another police official “any release of information should be in conjunction with and coordinated with the Mayor and the Chief as it very well have some intense ramifications.”
Simmons forwarded both emails to Singletary with his message advising the chief to have the Prude family lawyer’s public records request squashed, according to the documents released Monday. Simmons suggested that the city deny the request because the case was still under investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
“I totally agree,” Singletary replied, according to the emails.
Later on June 4, as discussion of the records request continued, city lawyer Stephanie Prince told Curtin of a way to buy more time: allowing the attorney general’s office to show the family the video, as it has done in other cases, but not give them a copy of it.
“This way, the City is not releasing anything pertaining to the case for at least a month (more like 2), and it will not be publicly available,” Prince wrote.
Warren maintains that she did not see the body camera footage until city lawyers played it for her on Aug. 4 and that Singletary initially misled her about the circumstances of Prude’s death.
After seeing the video, Warren emailed Singletary that she was “outraged” at the conduct of the officer who pressed Prude’s head against the ground, Mark Vaughn, and that he should face an immediate disciplinary investigation.
In an unsent draft of that email, Warren excoriated Singletary for having “grossly underplayed” Prude’s death by first describing it to her a drug overdose. In the draft, prepared with Deputy Mayor James Smith’s help, Warren said she strongly believed Vaughn should be fired and that she would have asked for Vaughn’s termination in March, had she seen the footage then. She suspended Vaughn and six other officers last week.
“Quite frankly, I would have expected the Chief of Police to have shown me this video in March,” Warren wrote in the draft. The toned down version sent to Singletary did not include that criticism.
“I should have known. Everyone is right. I should have known,” Warren told WHEC-TV on Tuesday. “But this incident — an unfortunate and tragic situation — had been downplayed from the very beginning as a PCP overdose.”
A cursory management review that Smith conducted on the city’s handling of Prude’s death found that stalling the release of the body camera video because of concerns about optics cost did “considerable damage” to work the city has done to improve relations between the police and the public.
“It is hard to rationalize how anyone who saw the video of Mr. Prude’s encounter with the RPD did not fully equate these events beyond a few mentions of bad publicity, politics, process or a ‘false narrative,’ ” Smith wrote. “Rochester is in desperate need of healing. We lost almost six months of opportunity to begin that process.”
The City Council voted Tuesday night to repeal its decision to build a new $16 million police station, WHEC-TV reported.
Singletary announced his retirement last week as part of a major shakeup of the city’s police leadership but had planned to stay on through the end of the month. In announcing his retirement Sept. 8, the outgoing chief accused critics of trying to “destroy my character and integrity.”
Prude’s death has sparked nearly two weeks of nightly protests and calls for Warren’s resignation. His family has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the police department sought to cover up the true nature of Prude’s death.
Bidens to pay respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday
Joe Biden will pay his final respects to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday as she lies in state at the US Capitol Building.
Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, is scheduled to make the trip with his wife, Jill, one day after President Trump paid his respects to the late Supreme Court justice, his campaign announced.
Ginsburg, 87, who died Friday from complications from pancreatic cancer, has been lying in repose since Wednesday at the Supreme Court building, where thousands of mourners have paid their respects as they streamed past her flag-draped coffin.
On Friday, Ginsburg, just the second woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, will lie in state in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol and will be buried next to her husband, Martin, at Arlington National Cemetery in a private ceremony next week.
Biden, who served as vice president during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office, described Ginsburg as “a giant in the legal profession,” after her death, saying she “practiced the highest American ideal of justice.”
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump paid their respects to the former justice Thursday at the Supreme Court building.
The president was met with chants of “vote him out” from a crowd gathered on the sidewalk outside the building, a gesture the White House later described as “appalling.”
Ginsburg’s death has also sparked a tense debate between Republicans, who vowed to nominate her replacement before November’s presidential election, and Democrats, who are demanding that the appointment wait until after the election.
Massive pack of hungry raccoons roving San Francisco park
A pack of masked “bandits” is marauding in a San Francisco park.
A pack of 14 of the furry critters emerged from the bushes at Golden Gate Park on Thursday, startling a father and son who snapped a picture of the bizarre scene, SFGate reports.
“It was so surreal…a posse of bandits…like out of a movie,” the dad, Marc Estoque told the outlet. “And then two minutes later there was a coyote. I was waiting for the unicorn to pop out.”
Ten raccoons were pictured, while another four were still hiding off in the bushes, Estoque said of his image.
The seemingly massive population of raccoons in the Bay Area has been long chronicled, with the SFGate reporting back in 2008 of a troubling raccoon “inundation.”
Estoque said the raccoons appeared to be looking for food. He shared the image to raise awareness of the problem with people feeding snacks with park wildlife.
“We want to keep the animals wild,” he said.
Tamara Aparton, a spokesperson for San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department, told the outlet that raccoons have been a problem in the area.
“We’ve been posting signage and doing education and outreach in the area, talking to people about the harmful consequences for the animals and handing out flyers in English, Chinese and Spanish,” Aparton said. “Rangers have also increased patrols in the area.”
Steele dossier source was investigated by FBI for Russia links: Barr
WASHINGTON — The primary source of the controversial Steele dossier had previously been investigated by the FBI for contacts to suspected Russian-intelligence officials, according to information released by Attorney General William Barr.
The new charge was outlined in a letter sent by Barr on Thursday to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), whose panel is investigating the origins of the Russia probe.
According to newly declassified intelligence, the FBI knew that the research compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele relied on a source that had “documented contacts” with suspected Russian intelligence officials — but still used it to obtain a warrant to spy on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The document, now known as the Steele dossier, led the FBI to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to monitor former Trump campaign-aide Carter Page as part of their “Crossfire Hurricane” probe.
Steele, an ex-MI6 agent, was paid by Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee to find dirt on Trump. He compiled the dossier, which was based on unverified rumors.
In Barr’s letter, he said he had declassified a footnote from Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review of the Trump-Russia probe that showed Steele’s primary sub-source was the subject of an FBI counterintelligence operation from May 2009 to March 2011.
Steele’s unidentified source had contact with known Russian intelligence officials, the footnote said.
The source also attempted to recruit two people who knew an influential foreign policy advisor connected to President Obama, telling them they could “make a little extra money” for sharing classified information.
The footnote also shows the investigators in the Crossfire Hurricane probe knew in Dec. 2016 that Steele’s source was the subject of an investigation by their own department, and even interviewed the source over several days in Jan. 2017.
“To me, failure of the FBI to inform the court that the Primary Sub-source was suspected of being a Russian agent is a breach of every duty owed by law enforcement to the judicial system,” Sen. Graham said.
“This is the most stunning and damning revelation the committee has uncovered,” he went on.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation has raised questions about much of the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between Russia and the Trump’s presidential campaign.
FBI leadership knew early on that the Steele dossier they used to pursue an investigation of Trump did not support their theory and was full of rumor, but repeatedly relied on it to obtain warrants to snoop on Page, declassified documents revealed in July.
“A small group of individuals in the Department of Justice and FBI should be held accountable for this fraud against the court,” Graham said Thursday in the wake of the fresh revelations.
“The committee will press on and get to the bottom of what happened, and we will try to work together to make sure this never happens again.”
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