Windsor settles discriminatory policing lawsuit; third party will review officer complaints
The Town of Windsor has settled a lawsuit stemming from the pepper spraying of a Black and Latino Army medic during a 2020 traffic stop.
The Windsor Police Department must seek state accreditation and submit to third-party review of complaints against officers.
Under the terms of the settlement, Windsor admits no wrongdoing. A statement issued by the town of Windsor says evidence “clearly shows that there is no, and has never been, any pattern of discrimination in the Town of Windsor Police Department.”
The Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office will review all serious complaints against Windsor officers, including use-of-force complaints.
The department will also have to seek state accreditation from the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission. The department has already started that and submitted an application for accreditation in May that’s under consideration.
The lawsuit settled this week was originally filed by former Attorney General Mark Herring before he left office. It alleged Windsor police violated the constitutional rights of drivers by making racially motivated traffic stops and stopping cars for minor violations in the hopes of finding more serious ones.
The spotlight was put on Windsor when body camera footage of Army Second Lt. Caron Nazario’s traffic stop went viral online.
A Windsor police officer pulled over Nazario in December 2020. He said Nazario didn’t have a rear license plate on his new SUV, despite having temporary plates taped inside the back window of the vehicle.
Officers got out of their cars with guns drawn and shouted at Nazario to get out of his SUV.
“I’m honestly afraid to get out," Nazario said at one point.
"Yeah, you should be!" one of the officers responded.
Body camera footage shows police pepper spraying Nazario repeatedly before he gets out of the car and striking him once he exits.
Nazario filed his own $1.5 million lawsuit against the officers, alleging assault, battery, false imprisonment and illegal search.
A Richmond jury found the officers involved guilty only for illegally searching Nazrio and ordered the officers to pay him less than $4,000.
In a press conference after the footage went public, Windsor Chief Rodney Riddle said his officers had done wrong and that they missed opportunities to deescalate the situation.
The officer who repeatedly pepper sprayed Nazario, Joe Gutierrez, was fired. A second officer, Daniel Crocker, graduated from the police academy just two months before and was shadowing Gutierrez. He was still employed, Riddle said, because he did try to verbally deescalate.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleged a pattern of discriminatory stops and rights violations.
Herring said in 2021 his office investigated after the Nazario incident was publicized and said they found “much larger and deeper problems within the department.”
The former Attorney General said his office found Black drivers were dramatically more likely to be stopped while driving through Windsor than other drivers.