Va. NAACP calls for end to ‘qualified immunity’ following viral video of traffic-stop
VSP investigating after Army lieutenant threatened, pepper-sprayed by Va. officers
RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Virginia NAACP is demanding changes on a legislative level following a video of a viral traffic stop involving a U.S. Army Lieutenant who was threatened, pepper-sprayed and forced to the ground.
In a federal lawsuit filed April 2 against two Windsor Police Department officers, it stated the officers drew their guns, pointed them at Lt. Caron Nazario and used a slang term to suggest he was facing execution during a traffic stop in December 2020. After several statements, one of the officers pepper-sprayed Nazario, who is Black and Latino.
On Sunday, Governor Ralph Northam condemned the traffic stop and called for an independent investigation by Virginia State Police.
“The incident in Windsor is disturbing and angered me,” Northam said. “…our Commonwealth has done important work on police reform, but we must keep working to ensure that Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable.”
“It’s good that there’s an outside investigation; that’s a good step,” said Da’Quan Love, Executive Director for the Virginia NAACP.
Virginia State Police Superintendent Colonel Gary Settle said Sunday the agency’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation is initiating a “thorough and objective investigation” into the Dec. 5, 2020 traffic stop.
“It’s so sad and tragic,” Love said. “I think folks need to realize, a federal lawsuit had to be filed for that video to be released.”
The lawsuit filed was on April 2, nearly four months after the traffic stop by Windsor police. It states Nazario was not initially told why he was pulled over by two officers in December 2020. “What’s going on?” Nazario said in a cell phone video.
“What’s going on is you’re fixing to ride the lightning, son,” said Windsor Officer Joe Gutierrez in a body camera video.
According to the lawsuit, the phrase left Nazario feeling threatened.
“I’m honestly afraid to get out,” Nazario responded in the cell phone video.
“Yeah, you should be, get out,” Gutierrez demanded.
“To see a Black Army 2nd Lieutenant in uniform, pulled out of his car, pepper-sprayed at face point; any citizen of conscious would be extremely disturbed,” Love said.
In a news release Sunday by the Windsor Town Manager, an internal investigation by Windsor police found the department’s policy was not followed during this traffic stop.
“We should have improved relations with law enforcement to whereas this does not escalate to what it did,” Love said.
However, the Virginia NAACP is also looking for a change from elected officials.
“That’s why we’re demanding Governor Ralph Northam call a special session of the Virginia General Assembly for the sole purpose of ending qualified immunity and passing HB 2045 which is Delegate Jeff Bourne’s bill,” Love said.
Qualified immunity essentially protects state and local officials from individual liability unless the person violated a clearly established constitutional right.
In a statement Monday from the Governor’s Office, a spokeswoman said they are committed to comprehensive police reform.
“The Commonwealth has made tremendous progress over the last two years—banning no knock warrants, curbing pretextual stops, mandating crisis intervention training for police, limiting the use of choke holds, establishing civilian review boards—but there is more to do to ensure all Virginians are treated safely, and with basic respect, in interactions with police,” the spokeswoman said.
“The Virginia NAACP believes this particular incident should strike enough outrage of Democrats, Republicans, independents alike in Virginia to say enough is enough and we need to hold law enforcement accountable,” Love said.
Several recent attempts at passing a similar bill had been stalled in the General Assembly.
Meanwhile, Windsor administrators also announced following the internal investigation, department-wide requirements for additional training were implemented and continue.
“Since that time, Officer Gutierrez was also terminated from his employment,” the news release said.
Messages to the town manager regarding a specific date for the termination were not immediately returned.
On Monday, the town manager provided an update following the numerous citizen and media inquiries about the case.
“Daily, we are taking actions to rebuild the public’s trust in the Windsor Police Department,” the news release said. “Today, all body cam footage of Officers Gutierrez and Crocker was posted on the Town of Windsor website and as additional information is provided, it will be posted here, as well. Find information here: www.windsor-va.gov/page/documents-and-downloads/.”
The manager said VSP has already received numerous documents requested for its independent investigation.
Meanwhile, the Virginia Office of the Attorney General is also getting involved in the investigation.
A spokeswoman said Mark Herring has requested numerous documents related to the December 2020 traffic stop by Windsor police and policies when it comes to that department’s use of force.
- Any records or other documentation the Windsor Police Department has created regarding the incident that occurred between the officers and 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario on December 5, 2020
- Personnel records for the two WPD officers – Officer Joe Gutierrez and Officer Daniel Crocker – involved in the December 5, 2020 traffic stop
- WPD policies related to use of force
- WPD policies related to traffic stops
- WPD policies related to de-escalation and engaging with members of the public
- WPD training programs and/or materials for the last ten years related to any of the aforementioned policies
- Complaints received by the WPD related to use of force for the last 10 years
- Complaints received by the WPD related to traffic stops for the last 10 years, including, but not limited to stops where a person was detained
- Complaints received by the WPD for the last 10 years related to treatment on the basis of race, color, and/or national origin
- Several law enforcement groups across the metro-Richmond area have also shared support for an independent investigation.
The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police released a brief statement Sunday saying in part:
“We do not condone excessive use of force in any way, and believe that appropriate action should be taken upon completion of an investigation.”
Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.