A photo of Daniel Prude who died in police custody in Rochester, New York back in March.
Family calls for arrest of officers involved in death of naked Black man
03:29 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The Rochester City Council on Friday authorized subpoena power to the New York City law firm leading the independent investigation into the city’s handling of the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died in March after police pinned him to the ground.

“There’s really one question here,” attorney Andrew Celli Jr. told reporters Friday. “And that is, was there a cover-up?”

Celli said his investigation aims to determine a timeline of events, whether there was alleged internal cover-up, and how the information about Prude’s death was kept from the public in the city in western New York.

His team plans to issue several subpoenas by Monday to the office of Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, the Rochester Police Department, the city law department and the city council itself. But those four subpoenas are just the start, Celli said, and he expects “more than a few” people will be deposed under oath.

“No one is off limits,” he said.

Celli plans to make the list of subpoenas and depositions publicly available when it’s complete, he said. At the end of what Celli expects to be a three-month investigation, the final report will be made public as well as transcripts of the depositions.

The independent investigation will not focus on street-level police practices, Celli said, but specifically on the governmental processes after the interaction between police and Prude.

The City Council authorized the independent investigation this week, tasking Celli’s law firm, Emery, Celli, Brinkerhoff, Abady, Ward & Maazel LLP, with determining what happened within the city’s agencies after Prude’s death in late March.

Earlier this week, the city released more than 300 pages of internal communications, police reports and other documents that show a concerted effort by police and city officials to control the narrative around Prude’s death in custody and delay the release of police body camera footage of his interaction with police.

Celli told reporters Friday that his team will dig deeper. His team will likely coordinate with the New York Attorney General’s office where there’s overlap between investigations, according to Celli. New York Attorney General Letitia James announced September 5 that she’s empaneling a grand jury to investigate Prude’s death.

The independent investigation will not focus on street-level police practices, Celli said, but specifically on the governmental processes after the interaction between police and Prude.

The mayor’s office declined to comment further on the imminent subpoenas on Friday. CNN did not hear back for comment from the Rochester Police Department.

A spokesman for the city council declined to comment further on the imminent subpoenas. Councilman Malik Evans told CNN in a separate statement that he was “pleased that Council voted unanimously to commence an investigation into the circumstances around Daniel Prude’s death. Andrew Celli and his team will be getting to work immediately to follow the facts around this tragedy.”

Prude’s death and police body camera footage of the fatal encounter have prompted protests in Rochester and accusations of a cover-up.

Prude was in the midst of a mental health episode on March 23 when his brother called Rochester police for help, according to his family.

Attorneys for the family released police bodycam footage that shows officers handcuff a naked Prude and cover his head with a “spit sock” after he claimed he had coronavirus and was spitting. Officers hold the 41-year-old and push him to the ground in a prone position, the video shows.

He stopped breathing and was declared brain-dead at a hospital, where he died a week later, on March 30.

The medical examiner ruled Prude’s death a homicide, citing complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint. The report also cites excited delirium and acute PCP intoxication as contributing factors to the immediate cause of death.

Seven police officers involved have been suspended, according to the mayor. This week, the mayor fired Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and suspended two city hall department heads.

CNN’s Madeline Holcombe, Eric Levenson, Taylor Romine and Evan Simko-Benarski contributed to this report.