ISLE OF WIGHT, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered the Virginia State Police to conduct an independent investigation into the traffic stop incident involving two Town of Windsor police officers and a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Gov. Northam described the incident as “disturbing” and said that it angered him.
“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 laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable,” said Northam.
Gov. Northam ended his statement with an invitation for U.S. Army medic Lieutenant Caron Nazario to meet and talk with the governor regarding the incident.
“We must all continue the larger dialogue about reform in our country,” said Northam.
The stop happened on a night in December after one of the two officers involved said 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario’s SUV had tinted windows and didn’t have a rear license plate. It resulted in the officers drawing their guns, pointing them at him and using a slang term to suggest he was facing execution. He was also pepper sprayed.
Body camera footage showed Nazario had his hands held in the air outside the driver’s side window as he told the armed officers, “I’m honestly afraid to get out.” One of the officers told Nazario, “Yeah, you should be!”
Nazario is now asking for at least $1 million in damages and for the court to rule that the two officers violated his rights, including rights under the Fourth Amendment.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Norfolk Federal Court April 2, said the incident occurred around 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5.
The lawsuit claims that one of the officers involved said the charges could impact Nazario’s career with the Army. Jonathan Arthur, Nazario’s Richmond-based attorney who believes his client is a victim of police brutality, said this was threatening retaliation if Nazario complained about the incident.
On April 12, just hours after Northam released his statement, the Town of Windsor said that Gutierrez had been fired after an internal investigation.
Virginia Attorney General sounds off on viral video
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also denounced the actions of Windsor Township police officers in a conversation with 10 On Your Side’s Jon Dowding.
“There was nothing I saw in that video to justify the conduct that we’ve all seen,” he said. “It should clearly be outside the use-of-force policies.”
Herring says he also agrees with Virginia State Police’s investigation into the incident saying it increases the public’s trust in the system.
“We’re going to be looking to find out whether there was a pattern of conduct like this, either within the department or these officers,” he said. “We need to get a lot of information. This is a time for the [Windsor police] department to be as open and transparent as possible.”
Herring says there’s a lot of questions to be answered before his office would conduct their own investigation, but says there’s plenty of tools, like pattern of practice investigations, that can be used.
“If there’s a pattern of conduct like this, then there’s a lot more work that needs to be done to make sure that those policies or practices or patterns stop,” Herring said.
Herring commended the lieutenant’s actions saying he had a calm response when interacting with unreasonable conduct from law enforcement.
Local officials and organizations react
Several local officials and organizations have voiced their concerns and anger regarding the incident.
On Saturday, the Isle of Wight Branch of the NAACP called the body camera footage “very concerning,” stating that the incident will “not go unaddressed.”
“We are done dying. We will not stand silently while another African American’s civil rights are violated.”
Members of the branch said they are calling for a meeting with the Windsor Chief of Police and requested the termination of both officers.
In a separate statement, members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus are calling for the officers to “be investigated immediately and held accountable for their atrocious actions.”
“Not even a military uniform and brave service to this country can shield Black and Brown Virginians from racist police harassment and brutality,” Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said.
Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott has also called for a Federal investigation regarding the incident.
Attorney General Mark Herring called the incident “unacceptable” and called for the Windsor Police to be “fully transparent” regarding the issue.
In a statement released Sunday, Norfolk Delegate Jay Jones, who’s running for Virginia Attorney General, reflected on the incident as another instance heinous police brutality against a Black man.
“This video highlights a sad reality for far too many of us in communities across our Commonwealth. That reality must be brought to an end, ” Jones said.