An Omaha police officer has been recommended for termination after he improperly used a pepper ball gun during protests in late spring.
Three sources with knowledge of what occurred said Officer Grant Gentile fired a pepper ball gun at a protester’s genital area and later bragged about it. In addition, the sources said, Gentile was not certified to use a pepper ball gun.
Gentile, who has been with the department for eight years, was recommended for termination by Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, The World-Herald has learned.
A department spokeswoman said Schmaderer recently recommended the termination of an officer, but she declined to name the officer. The spokeswoman, Lt. Sherie Thomas, said officials could not comment further.
“The matter was brought to the chief’s attention by commanders within the OPD and not a member of the public,” Thomas wrote in a statement. “The chief authorized an internal investigation at that time.”
Gentile can appeal the termination in a hearing with the City of Omaha’s human resources director.
Omaha Police Officers Association President Tony Conner said Tuesday that the matter is an ongoing personnel issue and declined to comment.
When reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Gentile declined to comment.
In the Police Department’s policies and procedures manual, officers can deploy the nonlethal projectile at the front or back of a person’s body, shoulders down, excluding the groin and spine.
It’s unclear on which day the offending act occurred. On the first night of protests, a Council Bluffs man was hit in the eye by a pepper ball shot by a Sarpy County sheriff’s deputy, blinding him in that eye.
Schmaderer said in July that a safety review committee within the department is reviewing thousands of hours of officer body camera footage from the protests, which started May 29 and continued nearly every day for a week.
The Black Lives Matter protests were in response to the killing of George Floyd, who died after former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for about eight minutes. More rallies and protests have been held this summer to demonstrate solidarity with other protests across the nation and to demand justice for Omahan James Scurlock, who was fatally shot May 30 by an Old Market bar owner toward the end of a protest.
Schmaderer said the committee is scrutinizing officers’ use of force “to a level of detail you would be shocked about.” Concerning incidents would be forwarded to the department’s Internal Affairs division for more investigation and potential discipline.
Schmaderer said he plans to present the findings of the protests review to the Omaha City Council in October.
Omaha officers’ use of tear gas and pepper balls rose dramatically this year because of the protests. They used pepper ball guns 157 times in the first half of 2020, which was more than the previous seven years combined. And they deployed chemical agents, which include tear gas and pepper spray, 37 times in the first half of the year.
The department counts use of force types per incident per officer, so it wouldn’t count the number of times an officer pulled the trigger on a pepper ball gun, although that detailed information is in the chief’s report.