Utica police officer pleads guilty to civil rights violation and resigns from force

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A Utica police officer who was suspended in September 2020 after body camera footage showed him kicking a man's head multiple times pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to violating the man's civil rights, according to court records.

As part of his guilty plea, Matthew Felitto resigned from the Utica Police Department effective immediately, according to prosecutors with the federal Department of Justice. If the court accepts the plea agreement, Felitto will be sentenced on May 25 to probation and a fine of $7,500, court records show. As a felon, he will also be prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm, prosecutors noted.

More: Utica police officer suspended without pay; city seeking termination

More: Utica police officer suspended for alleged ‘unauthorized physical force.’ Watch the video.

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Utica police Chief Mark Williams speaks to the media Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, about an ongoing investigation involving Utica police officer Matthew Felitto, who police said engaged in unauthorized physical force with Utica man Kerwin Taylor during an arrest Sept. 4. Palmieri and police officials said Felitto has been suspended without pay.
Utica police Chief Mark Williams speaks to the media Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, about an ongoing investigation involving Utica police officer Matthew Felitto, who police said engaged in unauthorized physical force with Utica man Kerwin Taylor during an arrest Sept. 4. Palmieri and police officials said Felitto has been suspended without pay.

Felitto, 37, of Utica, admitted in court Tuesday to kicking Kerwin Taylor — described as "KT" in court records — in the face and chest while Taylor was being transported in a police van following an arrest on Sept. 4, 2020. Taylor, who was in handcuffs and leg shackles, was lying on the floor of the van face up, court records state.

"The kicks were without legal justification and were made with sufficient force to cause the arrestee pain and a bruised/swollen lip," prosecutors said in a statement.

Felitto is a white police officer. Taylor is Black.

Taylor settled with the city of Utica last year for $150,000 for damages incurred when he was arrested.

More: City of Utica settles for $150,000 in UPD excessive force case

More: With officer suspension, Utica police promise transparency

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri speaks to the media Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, about an ongoing investigation involving Utica police officer Matthew Felitto, who police said engaged in unauthorized physical force with Utica man Kerwin Taylor during an arrest Sept. 4. Palmieri and police officials said Felitto has been suspended without pay.
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri speaks to the media Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, about an ongoing investigation involving Utica police officer Matthew Felitto, who police said engaged in unauthorized physical force with Utica man Kerwin Taylor during an arrest Sept. 4. Palmieri and police officials said Felitto has been suspended without pay.

"The Utica Police Department (UPD) is an outstanding and state accredited law enforcement agency. UPD consists of dedicated public servants who risk their lives to keep our community safe," Palmieri said in a written statement in response to the plea.

"The city believes in transparency and holds all its employees to the highest standards. When the Administration was made aware of this incident, it was immediately investigated. Upon learning the facts of the case, the city pursued termination and this individual is no longer an employee of the City."

Protesters gather in front of the Utica Police Department after marching from Oneida Square on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Utica. The protest stems from an incident Sept. 4 in which police officer Matthew Felitto allegedly used "unauthorized physical force" on suspect Kerwin Taylor during an arrest.
Protesters gather in front of the Utica Police Department after marching from Oneida Square on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in Utica. The protest stems from an incident Sept. 4 in which police officer Matthew Felitto allegedly used "unauthorized physical force" on suspect Kerwin Taylor during an arrest.

Palmieri, Utica police Chief Mark Williams and other officials held a press conference Sept. 12, 2020, presenting body camera footage of the incident and announcing Felitto had been suspended without pay and the city was seeking his termination.

"I have to do better. The chiefs have to do better. The police have to do better," Palmieri said at the time.

H. Rose Schneider covers public safety, breaking and trending news for the Observer-Dispatch. Email Rose at hschneider@gannett.com.

Steve Howe is the city reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email him at showe@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Observer-Dispatch: Utica police officer pleads guilty to civil rights violation and resigns

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