Cop fired amid call from Virginia governor for probe into pepper-spraying of Black Army officer
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said on Sunday that 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 southeastern part of the state.
Town officials said later that night that one officer was fired.
Northam, a Democrat, 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." The statement said an internal police investigation showed that department policy was not 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 in December, when the officers demanded that he exit the car 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 December 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 says 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 attorney previously told The Washington Post that he has had recurring nightmares since the incident.
Windsor officials said late Sunday that their investigation will be transparent, 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."