New York’s Democratic attorney general on Friday recommended the New York Police Department get out of the business of routine traffic enforcement, a radical change she said would prevent encounters like one last year in the Bronx that ended with an officer fatally shooting a motorist.
Attorney General Letitia James, who acts as a special prosecutor appointed to investigate certain police killings, argued that traffic stops for minor infractions often end in violence and that Allan Feliz’s death last October after he was pulled over for a seat belt violation “further underscores the need for this change.”
James’ office concluded that the NYPD’s use of deadly force was justified but that the sequence of events leading to Feliz’s death would not have happened if police hadn’t stopped him in the first place.
Messages seeking comment were left with the police department.
Feliz initially complied when an officer asked him to get out of his car, but then jumped back in and tried to flee, James’ office said in a report on his death that included the recommendation about traffic stop duties.
Sgt. Jonathan Rivera then fired a stun gun at Feliz and climbed into the car as Feliz shifted the vehicle into gear and began moving. Rivera shot Feliz once in the chest, killing him.
James’ office concluded Rivera was justified in shooting Feliz in part because he feared the vehicle’s movement was endangering another officer standing nearby, the report said.
“The officer’s alleged justification is a fairy tale,” according to Robert Vilensky, a lawyer for the Feliz family, which is suing the NYPD. “The car which they say was moving was at best moving 2 mph. That wouldn’t knock over a fly.
If police officers are to remain involved in traffic enforcement, James’ office said, the police department should drop a policy that encourages officers to arrest any motorist who is found to have an open warrant.
Instead, the report said, drivers with open warrants should be arrested only with a supervisor’s approval if an officer has reasonable cause to believe they are a danger to the community.
“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,” James’ office wrote.
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