WINDSOR, Va. (WAVY) — A former Windsor police officer caught on camera pepper-spraying a U.S. Army lieutenant during a traffic stop in December 2020 will not face charges, according to a special prosecutor.
In a letter written by Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell to Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips, Bell said he decided not to prosecute following the high-profile traffic stop in which Windsor police held Lt. Caron Nazario at gunpoint and pepper sprayed him. Bell was appointed special prosecutor for the case.
Bell said he did reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia to formally request that the office open an investigation and see whether then-Windsor police officer Joe Gutierrez violated Nazario’s civil rights. Specifically, Bell requested the U.S. Attorney to see whether Gutierrez violated Title 18, Section 242 (Color Of Law).
Gutierrez was fired in April 2021 following the incident.
“As such, taking all facts and law into consideration, I have concluded that I have found no violation of state law occurred on the date in question,” the documents state.
In the documents, Bell says he based the decision on the fact that the traffic stop alone was not a violation of law. The issue was the manner in which Gutierrez conducted the traffic stop, including the use of force to remove Nazario from his vehicle.
“Although I find the video very disturbing and frankly unsettling,” Bell stated in a letter addressed to Isle of Wight County Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips. “Gutierrez’s use of force to remove Nazario did not violate state law as he had given multiple commands for Nazario to exit the vehicle.”
“The problematic issue, however, were Gutierrez’s statements throughout the entire ordeal, which would lead a reasonable person to wonder whether underlying bias was at the root of how and why Nazario was treated in like manner.”
The Virginia NAACP shared this statement below in response on August 3, saying they were outraged by the decision and that Bell’s decision has “only strengthened our resolve and renewed our conviction to continue to advocate for the end of qualified immunity, the implementation of civilian review boards with subpoena power in each locality, and improved continuing education and training of law enforcement officers to end implicit bias.”
“It is inconceivable that Hampton Commonwealth Attorney Anton Bell could justify or excuse the actions and conduct of former Windsor Police Officer Joe Gutierrez during an encounter with Caron Nazario, a Black second lieutenant in the United States Army. The video of this encounter has been widely circulated and provides the disturbing evidence of the bias held by this former officer. This video also adds yet one more piece of irrefutable evidence that demonstrates the need to immediately change the culture of policing so that Black people will not continue to be placed at great risk by the implicit bias of law enforcement officers. We call upon the Office of the Attorney General to review the evidence in this case to ensure that the rights of all Virginians are upheld and protected equally under the law.”Virginia State Conference NAACP President Robert N. Barnette, Jr.
In May 2021, the NAACP asked Phillips to recuse herself from the case.
“Since this incident, our local chapter has called for full accountability and transparency amongst
the Town of Windsor officials and the Windsor police department,” the NAACP said in a later statement. “Instead we have seen the local government unapologetically stand by the actions of these officers, provide the citizens with incoherent answers and have used their powers to stifle the transparency process.”
The two officers involved in the incident pulled over Nazario believing he was missing a license plate on his new SUV.
During the stop, body camera video shows officers pointing guns at Nazario, pepper spraying him and pushing him to the ground.
Nazario did not comply with the officers’ orders to get out of the car, saying he was scared. Gutierrez could be heard in body camera footage saying Nazario was “fixin’ to ride the lightning,” an expression associated with execution.
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