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Virginia AG launches civil rights probe into Windsor Police Department

Lt. Caron Nazario (R) filed a lawsuit earlier this month accusing two police officers of using excess force during a traffic stop in December. Image courtesy of Windsor Police Department/Footage                                   
Lt. Caron Nazario (R) filed a lawsuit earlier this month accusing two police officers of using excess force during a traffic stop in December. Image courtesy of Windsor Police Department/Footage                                   

April 13 (UPI) -- The attorney general of Virginia Mark Herring said he has launched a civil rights investigation into the small police department of Windsor after a Black Army officer filed a lawsuit accusing two of its officers of using excessive force during a December traffic stop.

Herring told CNN during an interview Monday night that his Office of Civil Rights will be investigating whether there's been "a pattern of misconduct with these officers or broadly with the department as a whole."

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Early this month, Lt. Caron Nazario, a Black and Hispanic Army medic, filed a lawsuit accusing Windsor Police officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker of threatening his life, pepper spraying him and aiming their firearms at him during a traffic stop that was initiated over allegations his new SUV was missing license plates.

Herring described the officers' conduct as "appalling," "dangerous" and "unacceptable."

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"People of color continue to experience brutality and being pepper sprayed and even killed at the hands of law enforcement and it has got to stop," he said.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Sunday directed the Virginia State Police to investigate the traffic stop, but Herring said it is important to have an independent and unaffiliated agency to also conduct an investigation to ensure accountability and the public trust.

Herring's office sent a letter to the police department requesting personnel records for Gutierrez and Crocker as well as all use of force complaints concerning traffic stops or discriminatory treatment based on race, color or nationality over the past decade.

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The investigations were launched as Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax called for a full federal probe.

"No person in Virginia or in this nation should be treated in such a manner -- much less a member of our armed forces serving our country," he said in a statement. "The fear expressed by Lt. Navarro is a fear that exists throughout Black and Brown communities based on a long, lived history of racism and brutality."

The Windsor Police Department, located about 30 miles west of Norfolk, said Sunday that Gutierrez had been fired.

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The department on Monday also released the body camera footage of the traffic stop, showing the officers pulling their weapons on the SUV as it pulls over.

According to the camera footage and the lawsuit that is seeking $1 million in damages, a uniformed Nazario repeatedly asks the officers "What's going on?" as the officers yell at him to exit his vehicle.

Gutierrez tells Nazario that he is "fixing to ride the lightning, son," a reference to being executed by electric chair.

Gutierrez then pepper sprays Nazario as he continues to ask why he has been pulled over.

Before being released without charges, Nazario is interrogated by the police officers, which the lawsuit describes as "a thinly veiled attempt to get Lt. Nazario to agree to their attempt to reframe the events to obscure their culpability."

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said he saw the footage and that Nazario "represented himself and our Army well through his calm professional response to the situation."

He remarked that while he cannot comment on ongoing litigation, he can confirm Nazario is receiving support from leadership.

"I'm very proud of him," he said.

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