Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Sunday he is directing Virginia State Police to investigate a traffic stop during which two police officers held an Army second lieutenant at gunpoint months ago in the southeast part of the state. Town officials said later that night that one officer was fired.
Northam (D) said the incident — in which body-camera footage shows police pepper-spraying, striking and handcuffing Caron Nazario — "is disturbing and angered me." Nazario, 27, who is Black and Latino, filed a lawsuit this month against Windsor officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker that alleges excessive force due to racial profiling.
"Our Commonwealth has done important work on police reform, but we must keep working to ensure Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable," Northam said in a statement.
In a town statement Sunday night, officials said Windsor "acknowledges the unfortunate events that transpired." It said an internal police investigation showed department policy wasn't followed during the incident.
"This resulted in disciplinary action, and department-wide requirements for additional training were implemented beginning in January and continue up to the present," the statement said. "Since that time, Officer Gutierrez was also terminated from his employment."
Nazario was driving a newly purchased SUV when the officers demanded he exit the car last December because he did not have a permanent rear license plate. When he told police that he was "honestly afraid to get out" of the car, one of the officers replied, "Yeah, you should be!"
According to the complaint, Nazario, a health services administrations officer with the Virginia National Guard, was in uniform when he was driving home Dec. 5. Body-camera footage of the incident went viral over the weekend, with his name trending on Twitter.
The federal lawsuit, obtained by The Washington Post, was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia on April 2. Nazario is seeking at least $1 million in damages and for the court to rule that Gutierrez and Crocker violated his constitutional rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment. The lawsuit claims police also threatened to end Nazario's military career if he spoke out about the incident.
The officers eventually released Nazario without charges. Nazario's lawyer previously told The Post that he has had recurring nightmares since the incident.
Windsor officials said late Sunday they will remain transparent during the investigation, adding that the town called for a state police investigation and supports a review of the officers' actions.
"The Town of Windsor prides itself in its small-town charm and the community-wide respect of its Police Department," the statement said. "Due to this, we are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light."
Windsor is a town of about 2,600 residents, located about 30 miles west of Norfolk.
WATCH: Police Pull Guns On Afro-Latino Army Officer In Traffic Stop | NBC News www.youtube.com
Rachel Chason, Washington Post, April 11, 2021
April 12, 2021
Voices4America Post Script. Video here. This United States Army officer seems to have made the mistake of driving while black. These police seem to see themselves as "Friends of Chauvin." #BlackLivesMatter #Enough