Virginia’s attorney general said his office is looking into whether there was a “pattern of misconduct” at the Windsor Police Department after two officers pointed guns at at a US Army officer, pepper-sprayed him and pushed him to the ground during a traffic stop.
Attorney General Mark Herring on Monday formally requested information from the Windsor Police Department, saying he was “deeply concerned” about a traffic stop in which the officers conducted themselves in a manner Herring called “dangerous, unnecessary, unacceptable and avoidable.”
Herring told CNN Monday night the officers’ actions were “appalling.”
“And people of color continue to experience brutality and being pepper-sprayed, even killed at the hands of law enforcement, and it’s got to stop,” he said.
“One of the things I am looking into is whether there might have been a pattern of misconduct — of police misconduct, either by these officers specifically or more broadly within the department.”
Herring’s civil rights office has requested any records or other documentation the Windsor Police Department has created regarding the encounter with the officers on December 5, 2020; personnel records for the two involved WPD officers; WPD policies related to use of force, traffic stops, de-escalation and engaging with members of the public; and complaints received by the WPD related to use of force for the last 10 years.
“Under no reasonable use of force policies that I could say any of this conduct be permissible,” Herring said.
CNN has reached out to Herring’s office for further comment.
Army officer was afraid for his life, attorney says
Second Lt. Caron Nazario feared for his life during a traffic stop late last year by two Virginia police officers, his attorney said.
“He was terrified that if he was going to move his hands below where Officer Gutierrez could have seen them to undo that seatbelt, they would have murdered him,” said Jonathan Arthur, attorney for Nazario, who is Black and Latino.
Late Sunday evening, Town Manager William Saunders confirmed to CNN that Joe Gutierrez had been fired following a use-of-force investigation. The other officer is still on the job.
The officers pointed guns at, pepper sprayed and pushed Nazario to the ground during the December traffic stop. The police officers believed the Army officer was missing a license plate on his new SUV.
Nazario has filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million in compensatory damages, claiming the two officers violated his rights guaranteed under the First and Fourth Amendments. The suit, filed in US District Court and first reported by the Virginian-Pilot, claims the officers used excessive force during the stop.
CNN has tried unsuccessfully to reach the officers, Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, for comment. It’s unclear if they have legal representation. CNN has also reached out to Windsor Police Chief Rodney Riddle and Windsor town leaders for comment.
News of the lawsuit comes as demonstrators call for justice in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota during a traffic stop and amid the trial of Derek Chauvin, a former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd.
Arthur said that Nazario had good reason to fear for his life. Guns were drawn when police approached his car, and officers gave him conflicting demands, he said. In body camera footage, Gutierrez is heard telling Nazario he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning, son,” which the lawsuit describes as a “colloquial expression for an execution,” particularly in reference to the electric chair.
“You do everything right, you slow down, you submit to the authority of law enforcement, you do the right thing, you wait until a well-lit place to pull over you’re on a dark road — you don’t want anybody to get hurt — and then the officers turn around and repay your courtesy with this,” Arthur said.