Ex-Utica Police Officer Matthew Felitto, 37, of Utica, New York, pleaded guilty Jan. 25, 2022, to violating the constitutionally protected right of an arrestee to be free from excessive force by a law enforcement officer. Utica Police Department image.
An upstate New York cop who repeatedly kicked a handcuffed, shackled, and defenseless Utica man in the back of his police van has pleaded guilty to a sole federal charge.
Ex-Utica Police Officer Matthew Felitto, 37, faces sentencing May 22 in Syracuse before Chief Judge Glenn T. Suddaby for using excessive force on an arrestee. As part of his plea deal with prosecutors, he is expected to receive probation and pay a $7,500 fine.
He could’ve faced up to 10 years behind bars and a $250,000 fine.
As part of his plea agreement, Felitto has resigned from the Utica Police Department. A felony conviction will bar him from possessing a firearm.
Attempts by Coffee or Die Magazine to reach Felitto were unsuccessful. A man answering a phone listed in his name said it was the wrong number. An email message bounced back as undeliverable. His attorney in Syracuse also didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.
“Law enforcement officers are given incredible power to enforce the law and ensure justice,” said Janeen DiGuiseppi, the special agent in charge of the Albany Field Office of the FBI, in a prepared statement released in the wake of the plea deal. “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.”
The case against Felitto began on Sept. 4, 2020, when he was called to transport Kerwin Taylor, a man who was arrested for threatening a woman with an illegal firearm during a domestic disturbance.
City officials said body camera footage showed Taylor fleeing the scene and resisting arrest. But other footage revealed Felitto using unauthorized force against Taylor and another unidentified officer intervening and yelling “stop” twice to end the beating.
A Utica, NY man has settled with the city for $150,000 for damages incurred when he was arrested.
— Prison_Health (@Prison_Health) September 27, 2021
Felitto confessed to stomping Taylor’s face multiple times with his right boot while the suspect was on the floor of the police van, according to the plea deal. And he admitted that when Taylor tried to sit up, Felitto used his left boot to kick his face and chest.
Taylor was left with bruises and a swollen lip. He later settled a civil suit with the city of Utica for $150,000.
“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 US Attorney Carla B. Freedman in a prepared statement. “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.”
Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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