Lawyers for a Black Army officer whose police are threatened during a traffic obstruction in Virginia have criticized what they termed “corner policing”.
Windsor Police on Tuesday fired officer Joe Gutierrez, who was initially disciplined following an internal review of the incident in December that was concluded in January.
Police Chief Rodney Riddle first publicly addressed the incident Wednesday, saying Gutierrez was fired after the traffic obstruction video went viral this week.
“We reached a point on Sunday where I lost confidence in his ability to continue serving the community to the standards we expect,” said Riddle.
Army officer’s lawyers, 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, characterized Riddle’s comments and the department’s policies as “up-to-date policing” and “blaming victims”.
“The statements by the Windsor Police Chief today highlight the systemic police problems that lead to civil rights violations across the country,” the lawyers said in a statement on Wednesday.
Windsor’s city officials said in a statement that an internal investigation found the officers who ran over Nazario – Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker – were not following guidelines.
In a federal civil lawsuit filed this month, Nazario said he was driving a newly purchased Chevrolet Tahoe when he ran into police on US Highway 460 in Windsor. He was in uniform.
Nazario, who is black and Latino, admitted in his complaint that he did not come by right away. Instead, he turned on his emergency lights and drove below the speed limit for 100 seconds so he could safely park in a well-lit gas station parking lot less than a mile down the street.
At that point, Gutierrez and Crocker drew guns against Nazario, who, according to the lawsuit and body camera video, was accused of driving without a license plate.
Nazario insisted that he obey police orders to keep his hands in front of the window, but officers got excited when he asked what justified the escalated sweater.
“What’s going on? You want to turn on the lights, my son,” Gutierrez said, according to the lawsuit and body camera video.
Nazario’s attorney, Jonathan Arthur, wrote in the lawsuit: “This is a slang term for an execution that derives from the slick reference to the electric chair execution.”
Nazario told police that he was “genuinely afraid of getting out of his SUV,” the video showed. Gutierrez replied, “Yes, you should be!”
The video also showed Nazario being sprayed with pepper spray several times, “causing him significant and immediate pain,” the lawsuit said.
Riddle, the police chief, said at a news conference Wednesday that he was glad no one was injured and that the situation had ended as well as possible.
“I wish he had come a lot sooner,” said Riddle. “I’ll own what we did wrong. I can’t speak for him, but I’ll own what we did. My boys missed the opportunity to verbally de-escalate this thing and change the outcome.”
Lawyers for Nazario deny this.
“The boss says he’s glad no one was hurt,” Arthur said in a statement. “OK [pepper] Spray hurts. It hurts to be threatened by lightning riding. It hurts to be told to be afraid to obey police orders. “
Riddle said he had decided not to fire the second officer, Crocker, a freshman to the department who was still in training at the time, because he wanted to use the incident as a teachable moment instead.
“I’ve known Daniel since he was 14. He is a lifelong resident of the City of Windsor. He wants to serve his community and I have little doubt that with a little more education and experience, he will continue to serve this community well,” said Riddle .
The lawsuit alleges officers warned Nazario to complain about her treatment while the traffic was being blocked and threatened to prosecute him. If Nazario “chill and let go,” no charges would be brought, they said, the lawsuit alleges.
Nazario has not been charged or charged with traffic violations, his lawyer said. A new vehicle sign is clearly visible in the rear window of the SUV, he said.
The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation said in a statement that it was conducting a “thorough and objective criminal investigation into traffic obstruction on December 5, 2020”. Riddle said the police were cooperating.
When asked if Nazario deserved an apology, Riddle said to reporters, “I don’t think so.”
Officials could not be immediately reached for comment on publicly listed phone numbers. Windsor Police did not respond to the request for comment.
David K. Li and Tim Stelloh contributed to this.