Windsor police chief says officers ‘missed opportunities to de-escalate the situation’; local NAACP calls for chief’s resignation

Isle of Wight

WINDSOR, Va. (WAVY) — Windsor’s police chief said some of the conduct of his officers during a traffic stop of a U.S. Army lieutenant last year “upset” him, but at the same time, he doesn’t believe the lieutenant should get an apology.  

Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle made the comments during a media briefing Wednesday afternoon alongside his boss, Windsor Town Manager William Saunders. It was the first time the pair answered questions regarding the traffic stop incident that’s made national headlines.

On Dec. 5 2020, two officers pulled over Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario in Windsor after his license plate wasn’t able to be immediately seen. The stop escalated to the point where both officers drew their guns and one pepper-sprayed Nazario.

The chief said he is classifying the incident as a “teachable moment.”

Following the briefing, the Isle of Wight chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said they were “appalled at some of the statements made” by Riddle and called on him to resign.

Watch the full briefing below.

While body camera video of the traffic stop first surfaced in the media last week following Nazario’s filing of a federal lawsuit, Riddle said an internal investigation into the officers’ conduct during the incident was launched on Dec. 8, three days after the incident occurred, and concluded on Jan. 28.

Officer Daniel Crocker initiated the traffic stop after saying he didn’t see a visible rear license plate on Nazario’s SUV. A temporary tag displayed in a tinted rear window.

Crocker classified the stop as “high risk” after Nazario, who is Black and Latino and was wearing his service uniform, didn’t immediately pull over. Crocker said Nazario was “eluding police” and his SUV’s window tint prevented officers from seeing inside. Nazario later told officers he wanted to pull over in a well-lit area.

By the time Nazario stopped into a BP gas station, a second officer, Joe Gutierrez, had also arrived in his cruiser behind Crocker.

Both Crocker and Gutierrez proceeded to get out of their cars, draw their guns and yell for Nazario to put his hands out the window and get out of the car.

When Nazario did not immediately comply with orders, Gutierrez approached Nazario’s open driver’s side window and dispensed OC spray multiple times into Nazario’s face.

Riddle stated that during the incident, Windsor police “missed opportunities to de-escalate the situation.”

In the body camera footage, the phrase “ride the lightning” was used by one of the officers toward Nazario in the midst of the traffic stop. When asked what those words meant, Riddle stated that, based on his police career, he took it as a reference to an electronic-controlled weapon, or a Taser.

“That’s not how it’s done,” said the police chief, referring to the use of the phrase. “It created unnecessary fear in Lt. Nazario, perhaps. Those kinds of comments do not serve any purpose in de-escalating the situation, or build trust between the officers and the suspect they’re engaging with.”

Nazario said Gutierrez was disciplined following the internal investigation but it wasn’t until the video made national news that he “lost confidence” in Gutierrez’s ability to serve. Gutierrez was fired Sunday.

“It’s bad. It doesn’t help us, it doesn’t help the community. It doesn’t have any place in law enforcement and those kinds of things are just intolerable. Yes, it upset me,” Riddle said.

Yet he wouldn’t go as far to say that Nazario — who was never charged for the stop — should receive an apology.

“I don’t believe so … Lt. Nazario took certain actions that created where we got to. We’ll let the courts sort that part out and litigate that,” Riddle said.

He went onto say that he also doesn’t find that the traffic stop was illegal, as Nazario’s attorney has alleged.

“There were certain actions that led to that traffic stop, certain actions that Lt. Nazario took that raised red flags for the officers based on their training,” Riddle said.

Moving forward

Riddle noted that his department has “work to do” to repair its relationship with the community.

Windsor has a seven-person police force to patrol the roughly 2,600-person town. He said the community is upset.

On Tuesday night, the mayor announced weekly council workshops will begin on Tuesday to discuss policing in the community.

He also said the department will be undergoing more training in the future such as implicit bias training.

When asked why the officers didn’t have the training on something so basic as de-escalation, the chief said “they are headed in that direction” too, and that funding is often an issue.

This was what Jonathan Arthur, Nazario’s attorney, considered the “bright spot” of the press conference.

“We do appreciate the fact that they are acknowledging that there is, what we would believe to be, severe deficiencies in the training. And that they are going to take some steps to fix that,” Arthur said.

However, that is where much of the agreement ended.

Calls for resignation

Arthur said Riddle was essentially “victim-blaming” Nazario, who on Wednesday was identified as a relative of Eric Garner, a Black man killed by New York police, by The Washington Post.

“[Riddle is] saying if my client complied with the commands this all could have been avoided?” Arthur said. “We find some of the statements very problematic.”

Nazario filed a federal lawsuit claiming multiple rights were violated in the stop. Virginia State Police have launched an investigation, as has the Virginia attorney general.

Riddle added that the FBI showed up with state police Monday, too.

“The Norfolk FBI Field Office is aware of the situation regarding the traffic stop in Isle of Wight County and will review all available facts of the incident to determine what federal response is warranted,” said Tina Pullen, an FBI spokesperson.

The chief is also confident external investigations into his department will find no wrongdoing. 

“We are looking forward to the state police investigation into the incident, and then we are going to work with our community stakeholders and reach out and go forward to increase the training our officers have,” Riddle said. 

After the press conference Wednesday, Isle of Wight Branch of the NAACP President Valerie Cofer Butler posted a response on Facebook, calling for Riddle’s resignation.

“After watching the press conference held by officials in the Town of Windsor regarding the incident involving Lt Nazario we are appalled at some of the statements made by the Town officials as well as the Chief of Police. Therefore we are calling for the immediate resignation of Chief Rodney Riddle,” wrote Valarie Butler, president of the Isle of Wight NAACP Chapter.

Butler and other local NAACP officials wrote a letter to the mayor, town manager and Town Council members Friday detailing their reasons for calling for the resignation of Riddle, as well as Crocker.

“Throughout this process Chief Riddle has been complicit in this entire situation. He stated that on
December 8, 2020 an internal investigation of this incident began, with it concluding on January
28, 2021. The investigation conceded that the ‘Windsor Police Department policy was not
followed.’ and ‘disciplinary action was taken’ but both officers were allowed to remain on their jobs,” the letter reads.

“Instead of taking full responsibility for the actions of these officers – as a leader should – Chief
Riddle chooses to invoke favoritism by letting the community know of his longtime personal ties
with Officer Crocker. He further defends his officers by stating they used de-escalation tactics
through this stop and that Officers Gutierrez and Crocker ‘initially reacted relatively well’
during the traffic stop,” it continued.

The letter also said that even though the town plans more community outreach efforts, the local NAACP has heard nothing from any officials.

The letter also makes several other demands:

  • The release of the January 2021 Windsor Police Department’s newly implemented department-wide training manual
  • A timeline in which the town will implement a Citizens Review Board.
  • The hiring of an active duty African American patrol police officer

On Tuesday, the Windsor Town Council voiced its support for the town’s police department, chief, and the officer who initiated the traffic stop and still remains on the force.

The NAACP had also previously called for Crocker to be fired.

Riddle explained why he didn’t intend to do that.

“One of things in watching the video is watching officer Crocker,” Riddle said. “And if you have watched the video, there are several times officer Crocker makes an effort to de-escalate that situation verbally with his mouth. He changes his pitch, his tone, his demeanor. That is someone right there that has the makings of being a policeman.”

Riddle said he Crocker is from the town and he had only been out of the academy less than a year when the incident occurred.

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