New York Attorney General Says Police Should Stop Doing Traffic Stops

September 28, 2020 Updated: September 28, 2020

New York’s attorney general said the New York Police Department (NYPD) should stop making routine traffic stops to cut down on deadly encounters between law enforcement and motorists.

Attorney General Letitia James, who acts as a special prosecutor appointed to investigate certain police killings, made the remarks in a statement released Friday, which accompanied the release of a report (pdf) into the Oct. 17 death of a Bronx man who was fatally shot during a traffic stop.

While the report found that police were justified in using deadly force against Allan Feliz, who initially complied with officer requests but then jumped back in his car and tried to flee, it also included a recommendation to “remove NYPD from engaging in routine traffic enforcement.”

Police fired a stun gun at Feliz as he climbed back into his car, struggled with him as he began to drive away and warned him he would be shot if he did not stop. Feliz died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.

James’ office made other recommendations, including changing NYPD must-arrest policy for warrants issued for failure to appear on a summons and bench warrants—typically issued for contempt of court violations—that are discovered during a stop. In the incident in which Feliz was killed, police tried to arrest him on outstanding warrants for low-level offenses such as spitting, littering, and disorderly conduct.

“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.

The report also recommends officers engaging in traffic stops make sure the vehicle is rendered inoperable and that officers should not enter a vehicle over which a motorist has control. In the incident, after Feliz got back in his car, he put it into gear and started to drive away. James’ office concluded in its report that the officer was justified in shooting Feliz in part because he feared the vehicle’s movement was endangering another officer standing nearby.

“We believe that, going forward, the adoption of these recommendations would significantly limit the likelihood of the kind of escalation that resulted in Mr. Feliz’s death,” the report said.

The NYPD declined to comment on the report.

The family of Feliz is suing the NYPD over his death.

“The officer’s alleged justification is a fairy tale,” said Robert Vilensky, a lawyer for the family. “The car which they say was moving was at best moving 2 mph. That wouldn’t knock over a fly.”

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