ISLE OF WIGHT COUNTY, Va. — Windsor Police Officers will undergo additional training following the firing of Officer Joe Gutierrez, who was seen on body-worn camera video pepper-spraying a U.S. Army lieutenant during a December traffic stop.
The video sparked outrage, which led Windsor Police Chief Rodney Riddle to fire Gutierrez more than four months after the traffic stop involving U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario.
“We concluded our internal investigation on January 28. We took disciplinary action and at that point, as this thing got its leg and went viral, I personally felt there was no way he could effectively serve our community at this point,” Riddle said during a Wednesday press conference.
Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP), said she reached out to offer assistance following the viral video.
“We know of really small departments, like Windsor, that have training budgets that are less than $1,000 for their entire department,” Schrad told CBS 6. “They really have to struggle to get the specialize training that they need.”
Officer Daniel Crocker, who was also involved in the December traffic stop, remains on the force. He and his colleagues will soon receive additional training.
VACP has since provided Windsor Police with a free, online training module on implicit bias for the remaining officers to start immediately. Schrad is working to send additional experts to conduct classes to the department at no cost.
"Every officer in the state needs to understand what it means to deescalate a situation. Every officer needs to have exposure to cultural diversity training and implicit bias training,” Schrad explained. “Every officer needs to have better communication skills when working with the public. We really strive to make those opportunities to departments with restricted budgets.”
Schrad said that the training has not yet been scheduled, but she's working to arrange classes that can also be attended by other departments in the area.
Calls for for Riddle’s Resignation
Following the chief’s Wednesday press conference, the Isle of Wight County NAACP called for Riddle’s resignation.
Claire Gastanaga, executive director for the ACLU of Virginia, questioned Riddle’s reasoning for firing Gutierrez.
“He only fired Officer Gutierrez because of the outrage and not because of what he did,” Gastanaga explained. “A police chief that could watch that video and not believe his officers did something wrong is somebody I think people who live in that locality might ask the question whether he’s the right guy for the job.”
Gastanaga said that admission could help Gutierrez’s case.
“That might give Officer Gutierrez some reason to challenge the decisions to fire him because the police chief acknowledged he didn’t think he did anything wrong, but that because of the public outrage he couldn’t serve the community,” she stated.
CBS 6 reached out to the Windsor Police Department by phone and email on Thursday. We are still waiting to hear back.
Riddle said he wished Nazario had complied with the officers' demands earlier but insisted his department does not owe the Army officer an apology.
"I'm going to own what we did wrong," Riddle said. "I can't speak for him, but I'm going to own what we did. My guys missed opportunities to verbally deescalate that thing and change that outcome."
Nazario is suing both officers involved in the December 2020 traffic stop in federal court.
The Traffic Stop
The incident began when Crocker radioed that he was attempting to stop a vehicle with no rear license plate and tinted windows. He said the driver was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop,” according to the report he submitted afterward, which was included in the court filing.
Nazario drove his SUV to a well-lit gas station where, according to the lawsuit, the two officers got out of their cars and immediately drew their guns and pointed them at Nazario.
The officers attempted to pull Nazario out of the vehicle while he continued to keep his hands in the air. Gutierrez then stepped back and pepper-sprayed Nazario multiple times as officers yelled for him to get out of the car.
Nazario got out of the vehicle and asked for a supervisor. Gutierrez responded with “knee-strikes” to his legs, knocking him to the ground, the lawsuit says. The two officers struck him multiple times, then handcuffed and interrogated him.
Nazario was eventually released and no charges were filed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.