Rochester police leaders retire after suffocation death

FILE- In this Aug. 6, 2020 file photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James takes a question at a news conference in New York. James said on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020 that she will impanel a grand jury to look into the death of Daniel Prude. Prude, 41, apparently stopped breathing as police in Rochester, N.Y. were restraining him in March 2020 and died when he was taken off life support a week later. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
FILE- In this Aug. 6, 2020 file photo, New York State Attorney General Letitia James takes a question at a news conference in New York. James said on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020 that she will impanel a grand jury to look into the death of Daniel Prude. Prude, 41, apparently stopped breathing as police in Rochester, N.Y. were restraining him in March 2020 and died when he was taken off life support a week later. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Top police leaders in Rochester, New York, announced their retirements Tuesday amid nightly protests over the handling of the suffocation death of Daniel Prude, whose family filed a federal lawsuit alleging a cover-up by law enforcement.

Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, Deputy Chief Joseph M. Morabito and two commanders retired, while two more deputy chiefs and a commander gave up top leadership positions and returned to lower ranks. The outgoing chief accused critics of trying to “destroy my character and integrity.”

Mayor Lovely Warren said during a video call with members of the City Council that she did not ask Singletary, 40, to resign, but that his abrupt decision to step down came after “new information that was brought to light today that I had not previously seen before." She did not elaborate.

While the “timing and tenor” of the retirements were difficult, Warren said later at a brief news conference, “I truly believe that we will get through this.”

The sudden announcements came more than five months after the death of Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who died several days after an encounter with police March 23 in New York's third-largest city. There have been nightly protests in the city since the video's release Wednesday.

“The events that have unfolded today have taken us completely by surprise, as they have everyone else,” the Rochester police union, known as the Locust Club, said in a prepared statement. The union blamed the “problems of leadership" on the mayor.

“The members of the Rochester Police Department and the Greater Rochester Community know my reputation and know what I stand for," Singletary said in his own prepared statement. "The mischaracterization and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not based on facts, and is not what I stand for.”

Singletary, who spent his entire career in the Rochester Police Department, was appointed chief in April 2019. He will stay on through the end of the month, Warren said. Both the mayor and Singletary are Black.