Recorded on body cam video repeatedly stomping a handcuffed man in the head, Utica Police Officer Matthew Felitto pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal civil rights violation.
On September 4, 2020, Utica Police officers responded to a domestic altercation involving Kerwin Taylor allegedly threatening his girlfriend with a firearm following an argument. As officers arrested Taylor, Officer Felitto arrived at the scene to assist in transporting Taylor to the station.
According to police body cam video, Taylor’s hands were cuffed behind his back with his legs shackled when officers placed him in the back of a police van. As Taylor was lying on the floor of the van face up and restrained, Felitto stomped on his face and chest several times without legal justification.
At least one other officer told Felitto to stop the assault. Court documents found that Felitto’s kicks were made with sufficient force to cause pain to Taylor and gave him a swollen lip.
Felitto was initially suspended without pay with city officials seeking his termination. On Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to violating Taylor’s constitutionally protected right to be free from excessive force by a law enforcement officer and was required to resign from the Utica Police Department effective immediately.
If the Court accepts the plea agreement, Felitto will receive a sentence of probation along with a $7,500 fine. As a felon, Felitto will also be prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm.
“My office is committed to holding police officers accountable when they violate the constitutional rights of the citizens they are sworn to serve, even those under arrest,” said United States Attorney Carla Freedman in a recent press release. “Police officers routinely respond to high-stress and high-stakes situations, and they regularly handle those responsibilities with professionalism and poise, but when an officer uses excessive force and violates the civil rights of others, we will pursue those cases aggressively.”
“Law enforcement officers are given incredible power to enforce the law and ensure justice. The privilege of wearing a badge does not come with the authority to violate the Constitution or the rights of the very people they have taken an oath to protect. The FBI will continue to work with our partners to hold accountable law enforcement officers who break the law and tarnish the reputation of the many dedicated, honest, and hard-working officers who serve their communities every day,” stated Janeen DiGuiseppi, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the FBI.
Last year, the City of Utica approved a $150,000 settlement with Taylor, who sued the city over the excessive force used by Felitto. Felitto is currently scheduled to be sentenced on May 25.