A Virginia police officer accused of pepper-spraying a Black and Latino military officer and forcing him to the ground during a traffic stop in December has been fired, a Town of Windsor official said.
Army Lt. Caron Nazario has filed suit seeking more than $1 million against police officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, and video from the officers’ body cameras and Nazario’s cellphone went viral last week.
Windsor, with a population of 2,600, has a police force of about a half dozen officers, according to the town’s website. Following an internal investigation, Gutierrez was fired and additional officer training was implemented, Windsor Town Manager William Saunders said in a statement Sunday.
“The Town has also requested an investigation of this event by the Virginia State Police, and joins with elected officials who have called for a full and complete review of the actions of these officers,” Saunders said, adding that “we are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light.”
Virginia’s governor, attorney general, a congressman and the NAACP were among those expressing outrage at the actions of Windsor police officers in recent days.
A police report from the stop indicates the officers stopped Nazario because he did not have a rear license plate on his new SUV, although the report adds that after stopping the vehicle they saw a temporary plate taped to a window.
Video shows the officers ordering Nazario, who was in uniform, to exit his vehicle outside a gas station as he held his hands up through the driver’s side window. Nazario said he was afraid to get out of the SUV and was blasted with pepper spray and forced to the ground.
Later in the tape, the officers say they will let Nazario go if he remained quiet about the incident, but that he would face additional charges if he complained. Nazario was later released at the scene and not charged.
Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statement Sunday saying the incident “is disturbing and angered me.” He ordered the State Police to investigate.
The state NAACP highlighted an exchange during which Nazario says he is “honestly afraid to get out” of his vehicle. The officer then responds: “Yeah, you should be.”
“We watched with horror the so-called traffic stop in Windsor,” Virginia NAACP President Robert N. Barnette Jr. said. “The fact that an officer who is supposed to ‘protect and serve’ felt emboldened enough to state this is the root of the problem. This isn’t the first officer we have seen without fear of consequences for their actions.”
The group called for a special session of the Virginia General Assembly to pass a bill that would make it easier for people to sue police officers and their agencies in civil court for civil rights violations.
“The Virginia NAACP strongly believes that the Commonwealth must end qualified immunity now,” Executive Director Da’Quan Marcell Love said. “Black Virginians can’t wait.”