Businesses take precautions ahead of Utica protest

Utica protest

Ahead of a planned protest Saturday afternoon in Utica, a Craigslist ad claiming connection to the Black Lives Matter group had New Hartford Shopping Center business preparing just in case.

At least four businesses in the shopping center had boarded up windows and other areas of their spaces as of noon Saturday.

“There was a Craigslist ad out … in an effort to form issues in our area,” New Hartford Town Supervisor Paul Miscione said Saturday afternoon. “So when we got that, we’ve been in contact with the state police and our police department. We don’t have sources right now that anything is transpiring (at the shopping center). But, we’re fully on board … if we have to enact any closings or anything like that. We’re just being proactive and getting everything in line in case there is any civil disobedience.”

The protest in Utica stems from an incident Sept. 4 in which police officer Matthew Felitto allegedly used “unauthorized physical force” on suspect Kerwin Taylor during an arrest. Body camera footage showed him apparently kicking the suspect’s head multiple times, city officials said Thursday. Felitto is a white police officer. Taylor is Black.

Felitto has been suspended without pay with a further internal investigation underway. City officials are seeking Felitto’s termination under his union’s collective bargaining agreement, Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri said. The incident has been referred to the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal charges.

Organizers of the Utica March for Justice protest want Felitto to be terminated from the police department as well as charged because of the incident. The march is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Oneida Square Roundabout in New Hartford with plans to march to the Utica Police Department at 3:30 p.m. More information can be found on the Utica March for Justice Facebook page.

In New Hartford, an Observer-Dispatch reporter saw at least three New Hartford shopping businesses in the process of being boarding up Saturday.

Two police cars appeared to be stationed on the shopping grounds as of noon Saturday. Miscione said “the full staff” was on duty Saturday. New Hartford police didn’t immediately return a message for comment.

New Hartford Shopping Center General Manager Bill Morris said he had been in contact with Miscione as well as local police, so they were prepared. Morris said he wasn’t sure how long the businesses would be boarded up.

“It only takes one or two people to cause chaos,” Miscione said. “That’s all we want to be on board for if something does start. The (Craiglist) post was out there. … We just want to be on top of it and make sure it doesn’t transpire in a negative way.”

Duff Holmes, owner of Mohawk Valley MMA, was in the process of boarding up his location with help from John Grems of Custom Home Renovations around noon Saturday.

“I really have nothing valuable in there to anybody but myself,” said Holmes, who was part of MMA for 15 years. “I think it is a credible threat. For a few hundred dollars worth of plywood it is worth the peace of mind.”

The Utica Police Department sent the following statement Saturday afternoon:

“Over the course of the last 24 hours we have been made aware of the rumors regarding mass civil unrest within the City. We have been diligently following up on all information that has been reported to us and at this point in time we have no verified intelligence substantiating it. We will continue to monitor the situation throughout the day, and will update with any changes. As always, we respect everyone’s right to peacefully protest.”

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