New York, NY – New York Attorney General Letitia James said that police should stop arresting criminals during traffic stops in order to decrease the chances that such situations will escalate into violent confrontations.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) could have prevented the fatal officer-involved shooting of 31-year-old parolee Allan Feliz if they hadn’t tried to arrest him for open warrants during a traffic stop in 2019, James’ Special Investigations and Prosecutions Units reasoned in a report released on Sept. 25, according to the New York Post.
James’ office determined that the NYPD officer who shot Feliz was justified in doing so, but that Feliz would still be alive if police hadn’t pulled him over for a traffic offense in the first place.
“The vast majority of traffic stops — including this one — do not involve criminal conduct, yet the involvement of police in such situations can result in violent interactions,” the attorney general’s office said. “The untimely death of Mr. Feliz further underscores the need for this change.”
The report also “highlighted studies demonstrating disparities in the use of force during traffic stops against Black and Latino men,” according to the New York Post.
NYPD Sergeant Jonathan Rivera pulled Feliz over in the Bronx in October of 2019 for an alleged seatbelt violation, FOX News reported.
When he asked Feliz for his identification, the suspect handed him a driver’s license that belonged to his brother.
Feliz’s brother happened to have three open warrants at the time for offenses of littering, disorderly conduct, and spitting, FOX News reported.
Feliz initially complied with officers’ directives to step out of his vehicle, but suddenly jumped back behind the wheel in an attempt to flee the scene, police said.
One officer grabbed onto Feliz and tried to yank him out of the car.
Sgt. Rivera deployed his Taser – striking the suspect in the chest – but it had no effect, police said.
Feliz then shifted the vehicle into gear and the car lurched forward, at which point Sgt. Rivera discharged his weapon, according to the Associated Press.
The bullet hit Feliz in his chest, killing him.
James’ office said that Sgt. Rivera fired his weapon in part because he was worried that the suspect was going to hit the other officer with the vehicle, the Associated Press reported.
Investigators later located 1.3 grams of methamphetamine and over nine grams of cocaine inside Feliz’s car, according to the New York Post.
Feliz was on parole for a prior federal conviction at the time of the incident.
James’ office said that if the NYPD opts to continue conducting traffic stops, they should at least consider not arresting suspects who are the subjects of so-called “low-level” warrants, the New York Post reported.
“It is highly unlikely that the incident involving Mr. Feliz…would have escalated in the manner it did in the absence of this automatic arrest policy,” the attorney general’s office opined.
James said that Feliz’s death was a “tragedy” and that she is “gravely concerned” about the way Sgt. Rivera and other NYPD officers handled the situation, the New York Post reported.
She suggested that department policy should be changed so that offenders with open warrants would only be arrested if the officer has reasonable cause to believe the suspect is a danger to society and a supervisor approves the request to make an arrest, according to the Associated Press.
“The OAG believes that such a policy properly balances the risks to the community and the public interest in avoiding unnecessary arrests during car stops,” the report read. “In addition, the OAG encourages state lawmakers to consider whether this issue might also be more fully addressed through legislation.”
The New York City Police Benevolent Association did not respond to a request for comment regarding James’ recommendations to the NYPD, according to FOX News.
Feliz’s family has filed a lawsuit against the department the Associated Press reported.
“The officer’s alleged justification is a fairy tale,” said the family’s attorney, Robert Vilensky. “The car which they say was moving was at best moving 2 mph. That wouldn’t knock over a fly.”
“The justification is a made-up story to rationalize killing an unmarked civilian,” Vilensky alleged.