Utica police officer on leave amid video encounter

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A Utica police detective sergeant has been placed on leave after an online video surfaced of the officer using profanity and charging at a man who had filmed him during an encounter, the department said Thursday. 

"The City of Utica takes these issues seriously and an investigation into the incident has been initiated," Deputy Chief Matthew Kaluzny wrote in a statement, adding the sergeant "has been placed on leave pending a full and transparent investigation into the matter."

Other details about the Wednesday incident were not released. The statement did not name the officer, who was identified in the video posted on YouTube as Detective Sgt. Greg Morabito. He couldn't be reached for comment Thursday night.

Reached Thursday night, Utica Mayor Gus Calandrino confirmed Morabito was suspended earlier in the day but said he could not comment further, citing the probe.

Meanwhile, Steve Jones, who runs the Fricn Media channel on YouTube and recorded and posted the footage Wednesday, said he's considering a lawsuit after Morabito allegedly rough-handled him when he went to file a complaint related to the encounter.

"At a minimum, he should be reprimanded," Jones, who lives in the Lansing area, told The Detroit News.

According to the 16-minute clip, Morabito and at least two other police officers responded to a Marathon gas station after a driver complained about a man filming him.

Jones had been driving with the man and another companion, who all have YouTube channels and identify as First Amendment auditors known for filming on public property. Jones said the 911 caller falsely accused Jones and their group of threatening the man.

When Morabito and two other officers arrived at the gas station parking lot, Jones and his friends initially refused to answer questions, including whether they had weapons, and pointed out they hadn't been pulled over or told any crime they allegedly committed.

Morabito and Jones argued and cursed at each other, including after the officer told Jones' friend to stay away from his police vehicle.

Jones was heard calling Morabito a "b---" and "idiot." At one point, when Jones mentioned freedom of speech rights, Morabito was seen raising his middle finger at him and saying, "(Expletive) you. This is freedom of speech, too," before the other officers separated the pair.

Shortly after Morabito and another officer approached his friend's car and the second officer touched the trunk, Jones was heard saying, "I’m coming for your job" followed by a slur. Morabito, who had been at his police vehicle door, was filmed shutting it and rushing toward Jones while shouting: "Come for it! You think you're the only one who's come for my job before?" Morabito appears to swat Jones' iPhone, which falls to the ground, and is heard cursing.

Morabito and the officers eventually leave without issuing any tickets as Jones and his friends shout at them, warning of legal action.

The recording then shows Jones' group at the Utica police station, where they sought to file a complaint, but are told to leave. When asked for his badge number, Morabito shows it to the man filming and responds: "Can you read or are you ignorant?"

Morabito was heard warning Jones and the others they faced arrest if they didn't leave immediately. When Jones refused, Morabito said "You're done" and moved to handcuff him.

The video doesn't capture their interaction, but Jones told The News Morabito allegedly slammed and shoved him, leaving a bruise and minor laceration for which he sought treatment at an urgent care center.

Jones insists he did not resist arrest and earlier used language to "trigger" Morabito only after the officer was disrespectful when he and his friends hadn't committed a crime.

"His ego took over. His emotions took over," Jones said. "...I want to expose officers like this."

The 46-year-old, who started hosting his channel since 2020, said he respects law enforcement and has had cordial interactions but wants them to be held accountable for unprofessional conduct.

"We need law and order. Without it our country would be in chaos," Jones said. "But we need good police. We need officers that know the law and how to enforce the law and can differentiate between the law and feelings."