State Attorney General Letitia James announced she won’t bring criminal charges against Nassau County cops in the 2020 killing of 19-year-old Matthew Felix in Cambria Heights.
James’ Office of Special Investigation (OSI) concluded the actions that led to Felix’s death did not rise to the level of criminal conduct by the officers from the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD).
Based on OSI’s “exhaustive review of the incident,” including video footage from surveillance cameras, medical records, and hours of interviews with relevant witnesses, the AG said it could not be concluded that the use of deadly force by the NCPD officers in connection with the incident was unjustified beyond a reasonable doubt.
On Feb. 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 driving, Felix pulled a firearm on the owner of the car and forced him to get out, according to the AG’s report. 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 to Felix’s home in Queens.
Several hours later, NCPD officers stationed near his home, witnessed Felix leaving the residence in a separate car and began to follow him. Officers made several attempts to signal to Felix to pull over, according to the report. When he didn’t comply, officers surrounded his car and exited their vehicles demanding Felix show his hands. Felix put the car in reverse, striking an NCPD officer behind him, and then began to accelerate the car forward in the direction of another NCPD officer.
As 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. Felix was struck by three bullets and was pronounced dead at the scene.
At the time the officers pulled over Felix’s vehicle for the purpose of making an arrest, they “reasonably believed” he had committed an offense, namely the gunpoint theft earlier in the day, the report found. In light of the armed robbery, coupled with information suggesting Felix’s readiness to use a firearm, the officer’s decision to draw their weapons when approaching him, in order to protect their safety and to effect the arrest, did not appear to be “objectively unreasonable,” according to the review.
The NCPD officer’s belief that 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, according to the report.
Additionally, when Felix was directed to show his hands, it appeared he was reaching into the center console of the vehicle where a loaded firearm was later recovered, according to the report. In order to bring criminal charges against the officers, it must have been clear, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Felix did not pose an imminent threat to cause physical injury or death to an officer or others and, in this case, OSI could not determine that he posed no such threat, according to James.
“The Office of Special Investigations approach to each case follows a lengthy and careful process in their search for justice,” she said. “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 officer’s use of force was unjustified, as required by law to substantiate criminal charges.”
Though the incident 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 and vehicles outfitted with dashboard cameras.
“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,” James concluded. “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.”