WINDSOR, Va. (WAVY) — A 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.”
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.