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UPD: Sergeant suspended after using pepper spray, making 'inappropriate comments'

A Utica Police Department sergeant has been suspended for misconduct after city officials say he used pepper spray and “made inappropriate comments” to a woman and two teenagers while on a call.

Posted: Sep 25, 2020 12:34 PM
Updated: Sep 25, 2020 6:07 PM

UTICA, N.Y. – A Utica Police Department sergeant has been suspended without pay for 30 days, after city officials say he used pepper spray and “made inappropriate comments” to a woman and three teenagers while on a call.

According to Utica Mayor Rob Palmieri’s office, Sgt. Samuel Geddes was called in as a supervisor to the 900 block of Blandina Street around 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 23, for a larceny call. When he arrived, there were two residents, Melissa Henderson and Jimmy Spratt, arguing on the sidewalk.

Henderson was accused of stealing a necklace from Spratt, and Sgt. Geddes allowed her to go into her home to retrieve and return it.

According to UPD officials, Henderson threw down a different necklace from her second-floor balcony, and started yelling vulgar and homophobic slurs at Sgt. Geddes. Henderson also threw a bag of garbage from her balcony toward another responding officer at the scene.

Sgt. Geddes and Henderson continue to argue, which is when officials say Geddes made the inappropriate comments, as shown in body cam footage reviewed after the incident.

In the footage, Sgt. Geddes can be heard saying to a teenager, "Come down here, son. I'll stomp your [expletive] head."

He then went to his police vehicle to get pepper spray, and dispensed it toward Henderson, who was still on the upstairs porch, after she continued to make homophobic slurs.

According to officials, one of the teenagers at the scene was treated for pepper spray exposure shortly after the incident.

After the altercation, Sgt. Geddes reported his use-of-force to his superiors, in compliance with police policy.

The Utica Police Department investigated and reviewed body cam footage of the incident.

Officials say after the administration reviewed the footage, Sgt. Geddes was immediately suspended without pay.

Utica Police Chief Mark Williams says officers are trained to avoid engaging in situations like these.

"From what we saw in the video, the best course of action would have been to drive away," he said. "It's not only the language he uses, but also, you expect him to de-escalate the situation; tone it down."

The city is seeking termination under the collective bargaining agreement. Geddes, who served in the United States Marine Corps, has been with UPD for 19 years.

Sgt. Geddes' 360-page personnel file is on the city's website. It includes several commendations for getting illegal guns and drugs off the streets.

"It's just disappointing. We're talking about other instances where he's been a very good officer. It's disappointing to see," said Chief Williams. 

Also included in his file, is the report on the death of Walter Washington. Sgt. Geddes shot and killed Washington while responding to a call in 2005. The Oneida County District Attorney found it a justifiable use of deadly force, and did not put the case to a grand jury. 

A statement released by Palmieri’s office reads, in part:

"While Ms. Henderson’s remarks were egregious and derogatory, the Utica Police Department does not tolerate nor condone Sgt. Geddes’ language or conduct. Utica Police Officers receive extensive de-escalation training, and there is an expectation, especially for supervisors, to act in a professional and respectful manner at all times...

"It is important the public recognizes that when administering discipline, the City of Utica does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, religion, race, domestic violence, military status, and/or other protected characteristics."

According to UPD, the police union is fighting the suspension on Geddes' behalf.

Several UPD officers abandoned their shifts and called in sick after the announcement was made Friday.

This is the second time in a month a Utica police officer has been suspended for misconduct. Officer Matthew Felitto was suspended earlier this month for using excessive force during an arrest.

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