One of two police officers accused of pepper-spraying and pointing their guns at a Black Army officer during a traffic stop has since been fired, a Virginia town announced late Sunday, hours after the governor called for an independent investigation into the case.
The town of Windsor said in a statement that it joined calls from election officials, including Gov. Ralph Northam, in requesting an investigation by Virginia State Police into the December 2020 encounter in which two Windsor officers were accused of drawing their guns, pointing them at U.S. Army second lieutenant Caron Nazario and using a slang term to suggest he was facing execution.
Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was also pepper-sprayed and knocked to the ground by the officers, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, according to the lawsuit he filed earlier this month against them.
The two sides in the case dispute what happened, but Crocker wrote in a report that he believed Nazario was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop.” Attorney Jonathan Arthur told The Associated Press that Nazario wasn’t trying to elude the officer, but was trying to stop in a well-lit area.
In the statement Sunday, Windsor officials said an internal investigation opened at the time into the use of force determined that department policy wasn’t followed. Officials said disciplinary action was taken and Gutierrez has since been fired.
Officials added that departmentwide requirements for additional training were also implemented beginning in January.
“The Town of Windsor prides itself in its small-town charm and the community-wide respect of its Police Department,” the statement said. “Due to this, we are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light. Rather than deflect criticism, we have addressed these matters with our personnel administratively, we are reaching out to community stakeholders to engage in dialogue, and commit ourselves to additional discussions in the future.”
Northam called the December 2020 encounter “disturbing” in a tweet Sunday, adding that he directed State Police to review what happened.
“Our Commonwealth has done important work on police reform, but we must keep working to ensure Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable,” Northam said in his statement calling for a review of the actions.
The Windsor police chief didn’t respond to messages sent through the police department’s Facebook page over the weekend.
Windsor is about 70 miles (112 kilometers) southeast of Richmond.