NY police officer faces disciplinary hearing for digging police vehicles

Three times a year, Daniel Prude would visit the Rochester Police Department’s alley, where the patrol car detectives use to try to sneak up on suspects got stuck, along with the two crime-scene trucks. But …

Three times a year, Daniel Prude would visit the Rochester Police Department’s alley, where the patrol car detectives use to try to sneak up on suspects got stuck, along with the two crime-scene trucks.

But what used to be a fun little game for the cops became a nightmare last summer.

Police Officer Joseph Hoffmann, a 26-year veteran who works for the department’s reconstruction unit, had begun working the alley between Post Road and West Lake Street several times a week in May 2017. According to the Buffalo News, a neighbor had called the police on the cops. The neighbor also said that Hoffmann, the commander of the unit, had made racist remarks.

When Hoffman finished an alley-deep dig of their vehicles, he hit the alarm button. No one responded.

Within the hour, Hoffmann was told that police had picked up Prude, a 25-year-old member of the Rochester Junior ROTC program. He told Hoffmann to stop digging. They had been at it for hours, with the truck either tied up or in the middle of it.

Hoffmann ignored that message, and continued working to free the vehicle. It took four days to free it and Hoffmann finally left the vehicle behind, taking with him the tires, gauges, hoses and other gear.

He then called Hoffmann into his office and let him go. Hoffmann said he had put in four hours working on the vehicle, but Hoffmann said no one had responded to his 911 call.

Hoffmann, 60, called Prude’s mother to let her know the construction crews were backing off the site and abandoning the trenches.

Nee Nyaha Dyson, Prude’s mother, was angry because of the language used. She said she told Hoffmann he could not have a racist response to her son’s death.

“He should have come back with an apology and explained what he did,” Dyson said. “A lot of things were said and done that shouldn’t have been said. The language they use is inappropriate and insulting. It was a very emotional time when he killed my son. It was like a death in the family.”

Dyson is set to testify Thursday as the first witness in Hoffmann’s disciplinary hearing.

Hoffmann faces an administrative hearing to see if he violated Police Department policies. He is scheduled to be heard July 8.

Police Chief Vincent Edwards told The Buffalo News that Hoffmann is “not on the job” now and will remain so until the discipline hearing, which will be final. If Hoffmann is found guilty of violating police procedures, he would face some form of removal, said Edwards, who has been police chief since April 2017.

“I would say my frustration is a reaction of disappointment that, as the chief, I can’t control how people are going to behave,” he said. “The one thing the chief cannot control is people being disrespectful and using any kind of language they want, because I can’t control that.”

Hoffmann may face the loss of his badge and gun, Edwards said.

Even before Prude died, the Police Department and county prosecutors questioned whether there was enough evidence to bring charges against Hoffmann and his supervisors for not responding more quickly to the call.

Prude’s body was found by police on June 15, days after he died. The call came just before midnight, with a 911 caller saying that a pickup truck was “pulling alongside a building” and “probably at a dead end” along Post Road.

When police arrived, they could not find the pickup truck, which likely was the same one Hoffmann was working on. The neighbors told police Hoffmann was “completely out of his mind,” according to police.

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