Rochester mayor calls for calm as protests against Daniel Prude’s death grow more contentious

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Clashes between police, protesters in Rochester following the release of video of Daniel Prude death., Photo Date: September 4, 2020

ROCHESTER, NY (ABC News) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and the city’s police chief La’Ron Singletary called for calm Sunday as protesters took to the streets for another night of demonstrations following the death of Daniel Prude.

Rochester Police said 1,000 people had gathered Sunday evening.

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“Let’s work together to keep everyone safe!” the department tweeted.

Warren’s pleas for peaceful demonstrations came after authorities said outside agitators have plotted to damage the city and after police used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse a crowd of over 1,200 people Saturday night.

Warren stood by Singletary and the police department and commended them for their restraint during the last couple of nights of protest. Singletary added that officers have arrested suspects from out of state and cited intelligence from social media that some of the alleged agitators planned to damage the city’s public safety building during the protests.

“People from outside of the city like Alaska and Massachusetts have been arrested,” Singletary said at the news conference.

In the video, which was first reported by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, officers approach Prude, who is naked, and Prude initially complies with the officers’ orders. Prude is subsequently seen shouting and spitting, which prompts officers to place a spit bag over his head.

The officers are seen pinning Prude to the ground while the bag is still on his head, and he eventually goes lifeless. Prude died in the hospital a week later.

Seven Rochester officers have been suspended with pay as New York State Attorney General Letitia James’s office investigates the incident, which is part of New York state’s protocol anytime someone dies in police custody. On Saturday, James announced she would empanel a grand jury to investigate Prude’s death.

Protests that have taken place in the city since the news broke have become contentious between those involved and the police. Officers say they’ve been struck by bottles and rocks and have had to use pepper spray, tear gas and other weapons to disperse crowds during the demonstrations, including the one on Saturday night.

About 1,500 people marched downtown Saturday and some allegedly set off fireworks, according to the Rochester Police Department. Three officers were treated for injuries related to the fireworks and nine people were arrested, according to the police.

Warren said she is coming up with a plan that would allow protesters to assemble while at the same time protecting people from injuries and damage to buildings. She called on the city’s elders to meet at a church Sunday evening to work to keep the demonstrations as peaceful as possible.

“Our elders will stand as the buffer between the protesters and our police department,” she said.

At the same time, Warren acknowledged that the department and city should have done more to protect Prude.

“We have to own the fact that in that moment, we did not do that,” she said.

The mayor revealed that she first saw the body camera footage last month but could not take any direct action because of the investigation by the attorney general. She defended Singletary and his actions thus far in the investigation, saying that he’s done everything by the book and has not impeded or covered up the case.

“I wholeheartedly believe RPD Chief Singletary can lead us through this time,” she said.

In the meantime, Warren and Singletary said the city is already working to change the way the city responds to mental health emergency calls. The city will double the availability of mental health professionals and the police will review its measures in place for handling such emergencies, according to the mayor and chief.

“Certain calls shouldn’t be handled by police,” Singletary said.