On Tuesday, a former Utica, NY police officer pled guilty to violating a man’s civil rights by stomping him in the face while hand-cuffed.
Matthew Felitto, 37, admitted to violating the constitutionally protected rights of an arrestee to be free from excessive force by a law enforcement officer when he stomped on the head of Kerwin Taylor in September 2020.
On September 4, 2020 Felitto arrived at the scene of an arrest to assist in transporting Taylor to the station. Taylor was handcuffed behind his back and in leg shackles when Felitto arrived. After helping other officers place Taylor in the back of a police van, Felitto can be seen on body camera stomping on Taylor’s face multiple times. According to police documents, the attack left Taylor in pain with a bruised/swollen lip.
Taylor settled a lawsuit with the City of Utica in 2021 for $150,000.
As part of his agreement, Felitto was required to resign from the Utica Police Department effective immediately. The former officer had been previously suspended without pay after the violent encounter was caught on another officer’s body camera.
The former officer is scheduled to be sentenced on May 25, 2022. If the Court accepts the parties’ plea agreement, Felitto will receive a sentence of probation for a term to be determined by the Court, and a fine of $7,500. As a felon, Felitto will also be prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm.
Although Felitto pleaded guilty to the federal charge, he was not charged with a crime in county court.
Oneida County District Attorney, Scott McNamara, said they were not able to prosecute Felitto because Taylor refused to cooperate and testify against the officer who stomped on him.
“In order for us to have prosecuted him for an assault charge, we would have needed the victim to cooperate. One of the things that we have to prove in an assault is physical injury, and to prove physical injury, generally you need the victim of that physical injury to say they were in substantial pain or there was an impairment of their physical condition. Only the victim could tell us that,” says McNamara.
“You can’t tell from a video whether or not he was woozy, unconscious, how much pain he was in,” says McNamara. “There’s only one person on the face of the earth that can say whether they were in substantial pain, and that’s the victim”
According to McNamara, Taylor was advised by his attorney not to cooperate unless he was granted immunity for the weapons possession charge that he was being arrested for that night.
“Taylor’s attorney, Frank Policelli, refused to allow him to cooperate with our prosecution of Felitto. He refused. He said the only way he would allow him to cooperate is if I granted him full immunity,” says McNamara. “He wants to cooperate, we would be more than glad to prosecute this case where he’s a victim, but I am not granting him immunity for what the police went there for.”
Taylor’s weapons possession case remains ongoing in Oneida County Court and he is next scheduled to appear on March 3.