Virginia AG is suing town where police threatened Black Army lieutenant during arrest
The Virginia attorney general sued the city where a police officer appeared to threaten to execute a black army lieutenant during a traffic stop, alleging Thursday that the city’s police department is engaging in a pattern broader discriminatory policing.
In a written statement, Attorney General Mark Herring recalled the “blatant treatment” of US Army officer Lt. Caron Nazario and said that a months-long investigation sparked by the case had revealed “huge” disparities in the application of laws against black drivers and a “disturbing lack of policies and procedures” to prevent discrimination.
“We even found evidence that the officers were in fact trained to go ‘fishing’ and engage in pretext stops,” Herring said.
Nazario’s traffic stop took place on December 5, 2020, in the town of Windsor, about 30 miles west of downtown Norfolk, when officers pulled it over for not having a license plate registration.
A lawsuit brought earlier this year by Nazario against Windsor officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker alleges excessive force and other constitutional violations, and claims the officers hit Nazario with the knees after he was ” compliant and blinded ”by pepper spray.
In the costume, Nazario, who is black and Latino, said he had a new vehicle tag clearly visible on his rear window and did not immediately stop because he was looking for a safe place to stay. ‘Stop.
When he finally did, Gutierrez told him he was “getting ready to ride lightning,” according to the lawsuit and body camera video of the incident. The lawsuit indicates that the expression is a reference to the execution by electric chair.
The video showed Nazario saying he was afraid to get out of his car and officers spraying him with pepper.
Gutierrez was then fired by the department and Crocker was fined.
Their lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday, but in court records Gutierrez and Crocker denied allegations in Nazario’s trial, saying they used “reasonable” force and did not violate his rights. Gutierrez also denied that he planned to execute Nazario, according to the filing.
In the lawsuit filed Thursday, Virginia state prosecutors claimed Windsor police disproportionately arrest black drivers.
Between July 1, 2020 and September 30, black drivers accounted for 42% of roadside checks in the department, a rate 200 to 500% higher than it should be depending on the size of the region’s black population, depending on the suit.
The lawsuit also alleges that officers disproportionately search black motorists and that the department provided various data on traffic stops and citations to local and state authorities.
The lawsuit, filed in Wright Island County Circuit Court, seeks to reform the department through court-ordered policy changes.
City of Windsor officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but in a statement to a local newspaper, the Suffolk News-Herald, the city called Herring’s prosecution “clearly political”.
Before and after the Nazario traffic shutdown, the police department practiced non-discriminatory policing, the statement said. Yet officials took steps to increase police training and accountability, the statement said – steps state prosecutors “were fully aware of” for “several months.”
The statement also said the data cited by the attorney general’s office is “questionable”, although it does not provide further details.
In an interview Thursday, Nazario attorney Tom Roberts said he was “glad to see that the Virginia state attorney general took the Dec. 5 incident as seriously as we do.”
He added that Nazario is undergoing treatment for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and considers what happened last year a “horrible betrayal”.
“It has shaken him deeply,” he said.