ISLE OF WIGHT, Va. (WRIC) — The Windsor Police Department Chief Rodney Riddle and Windsor Town Manager William Saunders spoke at 3 p.m. Wednesday. This was the first time the police department addressed the traffic stop of Lt. Caron Nazario in-person.
Later on Wednesday, the law firm representing the lieutenant responded to the chief’s statements, taking issue with many of his stances on the incident.
Saunders introduced the police chief, stating his full support for Riddle as he handles the aftermath of the incident, “We are very confident he is the person to lead us forward. He practically rebuilt the department since 2016. This is a one off incident. We are confident he is the right man for the job.”
The Isle of Wight NAACP branch did not echo that support, instead they are now calling for the chief’s resignation. A Facebook post says the organization is appalled by Riddle’s statements.
Riddle started off by addressing questions on the firing of Officer Joe Gutierrez. The chief says he lost confidence in the officer’s ability to serve the community on Sunday. While Riddle says disciplinary action was taken earlier in the year he says he believes Gutierrez could not serve effectively following the release of the video.
According to Riddle, the video of the traffic stop was released to Lt. Nazario’s attorneys in December.
The department’s internal investigation began on Dec. 8, just a few days after the traffic stop and wrapped on Jan. 28. The chief stated that it is not normal practice to post results to the public following an internal investigation.
As Riddle reflected on the handling of the traffic stop by Gutierrez and Officer Daniel Crocker he said the video made him mad and upset him.
However, he did not fully denounce the officer’s reactions, defending choices such as having guns drawn when they approached Nazario’s vehicle and their use of force.
“Those officers initially acted relatively well,” Riddle said.
Riddle says the officers saw “red flags” from the lieutenant causing them to have guns ready. He then goes on to say that he feels the choices officers made after that followed the use of force continuum by moving from the gun to the pepper spray to physical force.
This contradicts what use of force expert Timothy Williams Jr. told 8News earlier this week. Williams said the use of force was excessive and things went off the hinges very quickly.
The chief said that where Gutierrez failed was in his verbal commands. Riddle says there were missed opportunities to verbally deescalate the situation and an unnecessary fear created. The chief speculated the situation could have gotten to a point where the pepper spray would not have been needed.
“That video is horrible…” Riddle said. “They could have handled it better.”
A statement from Nazario’s legal team states, ” The Officers’ decision not to communicate information to allay Lieutenant Nazario’s reasonable fears of facing guns, despite Lieutenant Nazario’s compliance, continued the one-sided escalation of this interaction.”
For added context, the attorneys confirmed with 8News that Nazario had a familial connection to Eric Garner, a Black man killed by police in New York City. “Mr. Garner was Mr. Nazario’s relative via marriage whom Mr. Nazario considered as his uncle. As far as watching Mr. Garner be murdered, we all saw that repetitively on the television and social media. He was not present for the killing, if that is the question.”
They also explain that the situation in Windsor was harmful to Nazario even though there was not permanent physical harm done. Their statement says the pepper spray was harmful, being threatened with “riding the lightning is harmful” and officer’s statements that Nazario should be afraid to follow their commands hurt the lieutenant.
The chief says it was “maybe” not how he would handle the situation but defended the legality of the traffic stop.
Gutierrez, the officer taking lead on the stop was fired but, the younger officer Daniel Crocker remains employed by the department. At the time of the traffic stop, Crocker was new to policing and was in the “shadow phase” of his employment with the Windsor Police Department. Riddle says that Crocker attempted to deescalate the situation verbally and he is now using the stop as a teaching moment.
The actions by the two officers have also prompted the Windsor Police Department to pursue additional training. Riddle plans for officers to receive implicit bias, de-escalation and dynamics of citizen encounter training.
“We are going to work on it and fix it,” Riddle said. “That is all we can do at this point.”
Nazario’s legal representatives highlighted these statements as examples of systemic policing issues that can result in civil rights violations. They say that police forces lacking in appropriate training, supervision and policies can cause people like the lieutenant to suffer.
As for the other officers in the department and their normal conduct, Riddle says the traffic stop was a “one-off incident.”
Others in the community and across the state don’t see it that way. The Virginia NAACP is reviving calls for the end of qualified immunity. At a press conference on Monday, Da’Quan Marcell Love, executive director of the Virginia NAACP said that if a Black lieutenant in uniform receives that kind of treatment then he can only imagine what happens to others in incidents where body cameras are off.
Multiple investigations are underway to see if that is the case. At the state level, the Virginia State Police and Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights are investigating the traffic stop and the department. Riddle also confirmed that the FBI is conducting a federal investigation into the incident.
As for the ongoing $1 million lawsuit, Riddle says that while he is glad the lieutenant is okay, he will let the courts figure out if Nazario acted appropriately during the traffic stop. Claiming that the lieutenant took certain actions that pushed the traffic stop to what it was and stating “I wish he would’ve complied earlier.”
Nazario’s attorneys say the chief is victim-blaming and pushing a false narrative by claiming the lieutenant did not comply. Attorneys argue that Nazario slowed his vehicle signaling his compliance and put his arm out of the window when commanded to do so. Also saying that Nazario followed commands to turn off his vehicle and respond with how many people were riding his car.
The legal also took issue with Riddle not addressing officer’s decision to search Nazario’s vehicle. Saying that the search was illegal and in violation of Arizona v. Grant and Cromartie v. Billings.
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