Windsor, VA – The Virginia attorney general filed a lawsuit against the Town of Windsor alleging its police discriminated against African Americans after an investigation into the traffic stop of a black Army lieutenant, but the town said the whole thing is “clearly political.”
The incident that brought the Windsor police to the attention of lawmakers occurred on Dec. 5, 2020 when officers stopped U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario in his newly-purchased Chevrolet Tahoe for not having license plates, CBS News reported.
Bodycam video showed temporary license plates were displayed on the inside of the SUV’s rear window, but the windows were tinted so the temporary tags weren’t immediately visible.
Nazario said in a lawsuit that was filed on April 2, 2021 in U.S. District Court in Norfolk that he was on his way home from a drill weekend when he saw police lights flashing behind his vehicle, The New York Times reported.
He said he continued driving for about a mile to stop at a gas station because he said he was afraid to stop on the dark road.
Bodycam video showed that after Nazario stopped his vehicle, police ordered him to step out of the SUV with their weapons drawn.
Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker wrote in the police report that he thought the driver was “eluding police” and considered it a “high-risk traffic stop,” WTOP reported.
“Get out of the car,” one officer yelled in the video.
The video showed Nazario stuck his hands out of the driver’s window but refused to get out of his vehicle.
“I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” Nazario told the officers when two of them approached his driver’s side.
“Yeah,” Windsor Police Officer Joe Gutierrez replied in the video. “You should be.”
Officers deployed pepper spray in Nazario’s face through the open car window, the bodycam showed.
Nazario began crying and cursing and followed commands to get out of his vehicle.
“What are you? A specialist? Corporal? What are you?” Officer Gutierrez yelled in the video.
“I’m a lieutenant,” Nazario replied calmly.
Then bodycam showed the officers grabbed the man and by his arms and took him to the ground.
Windsor police officials announced in April of 2021 that Officer Gutierrez had been fired after an internal investigation had determined that the officer violated department policy.
Officer Crocker remains an active member of the Windsor police force, according to The Progress-Index.
On Dec. 30, 2021, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed a lawsuit against the town of Windsor alleging its police department had engaged in discriminatory policing against African Americans, NBC News reported.
Herring released a statement that said his office had conducted a months-long investigation of the “egregious treatment” of Nazario by Windsor police and discovered a “huge” difference in enforcement against black drivers.
The attorney general’s statement also cited a “troubling lack of policies and procedures” that would keep officers from discriminating, NBC News reported.
“We even discovered evidence that officers were actually being trained to go ‘fishing’ and engage in pretextual stops,” according to Herring’s statement.
The attorney general’s lawsuit, which was filed in the Isle of Wight Circuit Court, specifically alleged the town violated the Virginia Human Rights Act and the Virginia Public Integrity and Law Enforcement Misconduct Act, The Progress-Index reported.
The suit alleged that black drivers accounted for 42 percent of Windsor police traffic stops between July 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2020, NBC News reported.
The complaint said that number was 200-to-500 percent higher than it should have been based on the size of the area’s black population.
The U.S. Census showed that Isle of Wight is 23 percent black, The Progress-Index reported.
The lawsuit also alleged that Windsor police searched disproportionately more vehicles with black drivers than white.
The complaint also said the attorney general’s investigation found a “significant discrepancy” between the statistics the Windsor Police Department reported to the town council versus what they provided to the Virginia State Police, The Progress-Index reported.
“In all instances the numbers reported to the Commonwealth were lower than those shared with town council, and the discrepancy has not yet been explained,” according to Herring’s press release.
The attorney general asked a judge to bar Windsor from engaging in discriminatory policing and to apply civil penalties of $50,000 for each proven violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act, according to The Progress-Index.
Herring has also asked for a third-party oversight to monitor the police department’s compliance.
The attorney general’s term is up on Jan. 15 and Virginia’s incoming top law enforcement official has not indicated whether he will pursue the complaint against Windsor, The Progress-Index reported.
Windsor town officials released a statement after the lawsuit was filed that called the complaint “clearly political,” NBC News reported.
The town said it had cooperated with investigators and taken additional steps to ensure its police department was not engaging in biased or discriminatory policing.
It also called the statistical data cited by the attorney general in the lawsuit “questionable.”
The town said it had made progress and the filing of any lawsuits should have been left up to the determination of the incoming attorney general.
“Therefore, there was no need for Mr. Herring to file this lawsuit, except perhaps for the sake of headlines, which he will surely receive,” the statement read.