RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT & AP) - Gov. Northam on Sunday condemned a traffic stop that led to a US Army officer being pepper-sprayed by two Virginia police officers, sparking a lawsuit and national attention.
The lawsuit states officers in Windsor, Virginia, drew their guns, pointed them at Lieutenant Caron Nazario and used a slang term to suggest he was facing execution during a traffic stop in December. After several statements, one of the officers pepper-sprayed Nazario, who is Black and Latino.
“The incident in Windsor is disturbing and angered me — and I am directing the Virginia State Police to conduct an independent investigation,” Northam said in a statement.
Footage shows Nazario had his hands in the air and told officers, “I’m honestly afraid to get out.”
An officer responded, “Yeah, you should be!”
An officer stated Nazario’s vehicle had tinted windows and no rear license plate, claiming Nazario was “eluding police.” Nazario’s attorney said he was attempting to stop in a well-lit area.
Virginia State Police responded the governor’s directive on Sunday evening, stating the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations is launching an investigation into the traffic stop.
The Town of Windsor released a statement regarding the Dec. 5 incident, identifying the involved officers as Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker of the Windsor Police Department.
According to the release, an internal investigation of the incident began immediately due to the officers’ use of force during the stop.
Since then, Gutierrez has been fired. The release did not clearly state when the termination occurred.
“At the conclusion of this investigation, it was determined that Windsor Police Department policy was not followed,” the release stated. “This resulted in disciplinary action, and department-wide requirements for additional training were implemented beginning in January and continue up to the present. Since that time, Officer Gutierrez was also terminated from his employment.”
The Town of Windsor also requested an independent review from Virginia State Police.
Northam said he is inviting Nazario, who serves as an Army medic, to meet and discuss police reform in the US.
“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 law is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable,” Northam said.
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