Rochester Police chief and his command staff step down

Sep 9, 2020

Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and one of his top deputy chiefs announced simultaneously Tuesday that they would step down -- the starkest political fallout yet from the news of the death of Daniel Prude.

The news appeared to come as a surprise to Mayor Lovely Warren, who told City Council members during what was to be the first of a daily briefing on the escalating scandal engulfing her administration that she had only learned of the resignations moments before their meeting at 3 p.m.

Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary
Credit Max Schulte / WXXI News

Singletary, 40, and one of the deputies, Joseph Morabito, announced in separate news releases that they would be retiring. Warren told City Council members that another top deputy, Mark Simmons, was also stepping down, but a Police Department spokesperson later confirmed that Simmons was returning to his previously held rank of lieutenant. The department also said Commander Henry Favor Simmons is stepping down to lieutenant and Commander Fabian Rivera is retiring.

In a sign of how fresh the news was to Warren, she could not answer the question from city lawmakers as to whether the resignations were effective immediately. 

Later in the afternoon, she held a brief news conference where she said Singletary would remain until the end of September.

"I want to assure our Rochester community that the Rochester Police Department will continue to serve and protect our residents and our neighborhoods," Warren said.

The mayor did not take any questions from reporters.

Singletary cited attempts by “outside entities” to impugn his integrity as the reason for his departure.

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

Filing retirement papers enables the officers to keep their pensions and benefits. Singletary had 20 years on the force.

Singletary joined the force on July 31, 2000, according to the Police Department, and was appointed chief by Warren in 2019 to great fanfare. But he has been accused of covering up the death of Prude at the hands of officers, and calls for his resignation and that of the mayor have swelled since the news of Prude’s death surfaced last week.

Warren last week said that Singletary had told her a few hours after Prude fell unconscious and stopped breathing while being restrained by police on the early morning of March 23 that Prude had died of an overdose, suggesting that she was misled.

Prude would, in fact, not die until March 30, although doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital, where paramedics took Prude after his arrest, told family members that he was severely brain damaged.

Asked specifically over the weekend whether he lied to the mayor, Singletary said, “What I did was I provided factual information based on the incidents I had at the time.”

Singletary's resignation was celebrated as a victory by Free the People Roc, the activist organization that has been coordinating the nightly demonstrations outside of the Police Department headquarters and had been calling for Singletary to step down.

"We accept Police Chief La’Ron Singletary’s resignation and the resignations of the entire RPD Command Team," read a statement from the group. "Our movement for justice is winning, and it’s because of this incredible community, showing up night after night."

"Let’s keep the pressure up until all those responsible for Daniel Prude’s murder and cover up -- including Mayor Lovely Warren -- have resigned, taken responsibility, and donated their pensions to the families they allowed to be harmed," the statement went on. "Together we have the ability to hold those in power accountable and bring an end to systemic police violence in our community."

In the news release announcing his retirement, Morabito made no mention of Prude and focused on his 34 years of service. Morabito joined the department on Dec. 5, 1986, according to the Police Department.

“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,” Morabito said. “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.”