Attorney General Mark Herring on Monday asked the town of Windsor’s police chief to provide personnel records and use-of-force data as outrage builds over the December traffic stop of a Black Army lieutenant.
In a letter to Chief Rodney D. Riddle, a senior assistant attorney general wrote that the attorney general’s Office of Civil Rights has the authority under state law to investigate police conduct that might constitute “unlawful pattern or practice” and deprive people of their rights.
Herring’s office requested the records “on a rolling basis.”
The traffic stop of Lt. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was first reported by The Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Video of the stop went viral online. It shows two officers shouting conflicting orders at Nazario, who was in his uniform.
Officer Joe Gutierrez, who the town said Sunday had been fired, told Nazario, 27, he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning,” according to a lawsuit Nazario filed in federal court.
Nazario told the officers he was afraid to get out of his SUV. “Yeah, you should be,” Gutierrez told him.
Video of the stop outraged people across the country, coming at a time of increased public scrutiny of police brutality and demands that it end.
Herring, who is seeking a third term as attorney general, faces pressure on the issue from Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, who has called on Herring to use the powers of his office to investigate first a fatal police shooting in Virginia Beach and then the Windsor traffic stop. Jones is vying with Herring in a June 8 primary for the party’s nomination for attorney general.
Herring asked the Windsor police for records, including: documents about the traffic stop; personnel records for Gutierrez and a second officer involved in the stop, Daniel Crocker; the past 10 years of use-of-force complaints and traffic stop complaints involving town police; and any racial discrimination complaints town police received in the past 10 years.
Other Democratic lawmakers have joined Jones in their calls for Herring to use his office for such investigations.
Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that incidents like the one in Windsor were the reason he sponsored a successful bill in 2020 expanding the power of the attorney general to investigate law enforcement abuses of power.
Lopez said the state needs to move away from “police self-investigations” and hold bad actors accountable.
Aside from the attorney general’s request, Virginia State Police are investigating how police handled the traffic stop. Generally, findings in such investigations are reviewed by a local commonwealth’s attorney, who will decide whether to bring charges or take the case before a grand jury.
William G. Saunders IV, Windsor's town manager, said in a statement that the town has posted all body camera footage of the two officers on the town's website and that the town is working "to rebuild the public's trust" in its police department.