WINDSOR, Va. — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is suing the Town of Windsor, alleging that its law enforcement engaged in discriminatory policing practices. The suit was made following a months-long investigation into traffic stops by the Windsor Police Department.
The State’s investigation was spurred by a December 2020 traffic stop where Caron Nazario — a Black and Latino U.S. Army Lieutenant — was pepper sprayed in his car by the town’s police after a traffic stop.
That incident drew national attention after Nazario sued two of the town’s police officers and body camera footage from the incident was released. Officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker were shown with guns drawn, demanding Nazario get out of his black SUV. The Army Officer pled for the reason he was being pulled over before the two officers pepper sprayed him in the front seat of his car, later forced him to the ground and handcuffed him.
Gutierrez, the more senior of the two officers, was fired shortly after the incident. Crocker remains on the Town’s police force.
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The Attorney General’s suit alleges that Windsor Police have engaged in discriminatory policing against African Americans. It says that Black drivers have been pulled over and searched at rates disproportionate to the county’s demographic makeup.
Specifically, the suit filed in the Isle of Wight Circuit Court alleges that the Town of Windsor violated the Virginia Human Rights Act and the Virginia Public Integrity and Law Enforcement Misconduct Act.
It further states that Windsor’s Police Department “Lacks adequate policies to ensure that it is using force in a non-discriminatory manner, that it is performing traffic stops in a constitutional, non-pretextual, and bias-free manner, and that members of the public are able to submit and have their complaints heard in a transparent way that upholds the principles of due process.”
The court filing alleges that of 1,907 traffic stops between July 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021, 42% of drivers were Black. The Isle of Wight is 23% Black according to the U.S. Census.
It also alleges that the department searched more vehicles driven by Black drivers than White drivers, “even though Black residents do not constitute the majority of the population of the Town or the Commonwealth.”
The AG’s case also alleges that there was a “significant discrepancy” between the number of citations and traffic stops reported to the Windsor Town Council, and the numbers reported to the Virginia State Police for tracking.
“In all instances the numbers reported to the Commonwealth were lower than those shared with town council, and the discrepancy has not yet been explained,” Herring’s office said in a news release.
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The State’s case is seeking a court order barring Windsor from engaging in discriminatory policing, and civil penalties of $50,000 for each proven violation of the Virginia Human Rights Act. It wants court ordered policy changes in the department to ensure that:
- Traffic stops are conducted in a constitutional bias-free, non-pretextual manner
- The use of force is consistently applied and that use of force incidents are properly reported to the Department of State Police in accordance with state law
- The public can file complaints, have their complaints taken seriously, and provide the opportunity for an appeal
The Attorney General will also ask for a period of third-party monitoring to ensure compliance.
Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares is set to be sworn in on Jan. 15, 2022 and take over from Herring. His office has not yet said if it will continue to pursue the case or not.
You can reach Sean Jones on Twitter: @SeanJones_PI.