The New York attorney general on Friday recommended to the New York Police Department that it curb traffic stops for minor infractions, a radical change that she said would prevent encounters like last year in the Bronx, which escalated with quickly and ended in the death of a Dominican father.
Attorney General Letitia James, who serves as the designated special prosecutor to investigate certain deaths in police custody, argued that traffic stops for minor infractions often end in violence. The official referred to the death of Allan Feliz last October after he was arrested for a seat belt violation.
James’ office concluded that the use of force by the NYPD was justified, but that the sequence of events that led to Feliz’s death would never have occurred if the uniformed officers had not detained the father in the first place.
Police reportedly escalated the tension by attempting to arrest Feliz on pending warrants for low-level offenses such as spitting, littering and disorderly conduct, James’s office said.
Happy at first complied when an officer asked him to get out of his car, but then jumped out and tried to flee, James’s office said in a report on his death.
Sergeant Jonathan Rivera used a stun gun to subdue Feliz, who put the vehicle in gear and tried to escape. Rivera shot Feliz once in the chest, killing him.
James’ office concluded that Rivera’s action was justified in shooting Feliz in part because he feared the movement of the vehicle would endanger another officer who was nearby, according to the report.
“The officer’s alleged justification is a fairy tale,” said Robert Vilensky, an attorney for the Feliz family, who is suing the New York Police Department. “The justification is a story made up to rationalize the murder of an anonymous civilian,” he added.
The NYPD has a separate unit of personnel who are not officers, but direct traffic and dole out parking tickets, but who also have limited interaction with the public. James’ recommendation is aimed at officers who stop people for things like speeding, seatbelt violations and other violations.
If police officers are to remain involved in traffic law enforcement, James’s office said, the Police Department should remove a policy that encourages officers to arrest any motorist with an open warrant.