Attorney General James’ Office of Special Investigation Releases Report Related to the Death of Matthew Felix
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI), formerly known as the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit (SIPU), today released its report on the death of Matthew Felix. Following a thorough and comprehensive investigation, OSI concluded that the actions that led to Mr. Felix’s death did not rise to the level of criminal conduct by officers from the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD). Based on OSI’s exhaustive review of the incident, including but not limited to, video footage from surveillance cameras, medical records, and hours of interviews with relevant witnesses, it could not be concluded that the use of deadly force by the NCPD officers in connection with this incident was unjustified beyond a reasonable doubt.
On February 25, 2020, Matthew Felix responded to an online advertisement about a car that was for sale and asked the owner if he could test-drive the car. While test-driving the car, Mr. Felix pulled a firearm on the owner of the car and forced him to get out. The owner complied and shortly thereafter called 911 to report the stolen car. Detectives from the NCPD were able to track the stolen car through a tracking app associated with a laptop that was in the vehicle when it was stolen and traced it to Mr. Felix’s home in Queens.
Several hours later, NCPD officers, who were stationed nearby Mr. Felix’s residence, witnessed him leaving the residence in a different car and began to follow him. Officers made multiple attempts to signal to Mr. Felix to pull over. Mr. Felix did not initially comply with the officers’ directives to pull over, and finally, when he did slow down the vehicle down, officers positioned their cars both in front of and behind his vehicle in an attempt to stop the car. Officers then got out of their vehicles and approached Mr. Felix, demanding that he show his hands. Mr. Felix put the vehicle in reverse, striking the NCPD vehicle stationed behind him, and then began to accelerate the car forward in the direction of an NCPD officer.
As Mr. Felix appeared to pose an imminent threat to the officer directly in front of him and nearby civilians by driving onto a sidewalk, NCPD officers opened fire. Mr. Felix was struck by three bullets and pronounced dead at the scene.
At the time the officers pulled over Mr. Felix’s vehicle for the purpose of taking him into custody, they reasonably believed that Mr. Felix had committed an offense — namely, the gunpoint theft earlier that day. In light of the nature of the offense (armed robbery), coupled with other information suggesting Mr. Felix’s readiness to use a firearm, the officers’ decision to draw their weapons when approaching Mr. Felix, in order to protect their safety and to effect the arrest, did not appear to be objectively unreasonable.
The NCPD officers’ belief that Mr. Felix continued to present an imminent threat at each stage of the pursuit, to both the officers and nearby civilians, created a legal justification for the use of deadly force. Additionally, when Mr. Felix was directed to show his hands, it appeared as though he was reaching into the center console of the vehicle; a loaded firearm was later recovered from that center console.
In order to bring criminal charges against the officers, it must have been clear, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Felix did not pose an imminent threat to cause serious physical injury or death to an officer or others and, in this case, OSI could not determine that he posed no such threat.
Though this matter did not rise to a criminal charge, OSI remains seriously concerned about how the incident was handled by NCPD, especially the lack of body-worn cameras (BWC) and vehicles outfitted with dashboard cameras. The Office of the Attorney General has previously recommended that NCPD outfit its officers with BWCs and is issuing this recommendation again with the understanding that Nassau County recently committed to outfitting its officers with BWCs. OSI also recommends better use of police practices when it comes to taking control of a potentially dangerous car stop. Safety policies exist to protect all involved in these incidents and failure to follow them can lead to unnecessary escalation of an encounter, such as the one we saw in this matter.
“The Office of Special Investigation’s approach to each case follows a lengthy and careful process in their search for justice,” said Attorney General James. “After a complete review of the incident and the series of events that unfolded between NCPD officers and Mr. Felix, there was insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the officers’ use of force was unjustified, as is required by law to substantiate criminal charges. However, it’s imperative that all members of the Nassau County Police Department are outfitted with body-worn cameras and that all fleet vehicles are similarly outfitted with dashboard cameras — common-place and common-sense recommendations. Despite the facts and legal determination of this case, I know the Felix family is still dealing with the pain of losing their loved one, and I extend my deepest condolences to them.”