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WINDSOR, Va. - The Isle of Wight Branch of the NAACP called for the Commonwealth's Attorney in the county to recuse herself Friday morning in the high-profile case of the traffic stop involving Windsor Police and Army Lt. Caron Nazario.
To the NAACP's surprise, Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips recused herself last month.
Phillips says she initially requested the Attorney General's (AG) Office act as special prosecutor on April 8 in an effort to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Phillips says she was informed the AG’s office would not be able to act as special prosecutor, so she then requested the assistance of a neighboring jurisdiction.
On 21 April, Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Hampton Anton Bell was appointed as special prosecutor in the investigation of the traffic stop.
The NAACP says they’re disheartened Phillips did not communicate her recusal to the citizens of Windsor sooner, calling it another example of a lack of transparency within the local government.
The Windsor Police Department was put in the national spotlight after a video of Army Lt. Caron Nazario being pepper-sprayed and threatened by Windsor police officers during a traffic stop in December went viral.
The lieutenant is suing the two Virginia police officers (Daniel Crocker and Joseph Gutierrez) over the traffic stop during which the officers drew their guns, pointed them at him and used a slang term to suggest he was facing execution.
Town officials say as a result of pepper spray being used, the department's policy requires an internal investigation into the actions. Officials say that the investigation began immediately after the incident, resulting in the termination of one officer involved, Joe Gutierrez.
On Friday morning the IOW NAACP was calling for the Commonwealth's Attorney in the county to recuse herself. In a statement the organization said:
"Since this incident, our local chapter has called for full accountability and transparency amongst the Town of Windsor officials and the Windsor police department. Instead we have seen the local government unapologetically stand by the actions of these officers, provide the citizens with incoherent answers and have used their powers to stifle the transparency process. Our state and federal officials have shown that they take this matter seriously and the concerns of the citizens of Windsor have not fallen on deaf ears. Governor Northam through his executive powers authorized the Virginia State Police to investigate the incident, Attorney General Herring’s Office of Civil Rights has opened a patterns and practice case into the Windsor Police Department and Congressman Scott has asked the Department of Justice to investigate this case as well. Unfortunately, many elected officials in our local government have stood by silently throughout this entire incident. The few that have spoken have spent more time defending the actions of the officers, the Chief of police and the town’s reputation instead of taking full responsibility. Therefore, our community has lost complete and total confidence in the local government’s handling of this case. Due to this distrust, we believe no officials in the local or county government should have any decision-making power in the outcome of the state police investigation."
The NAACP went on to ask Attorney Georgette Phillips to recuse herself from the case and request Governor Northam to authorize Attorney General Herring’s office to review all evidence from the state police investigation and make any and all legal decisions.
Later Friday Phillips responded, saying she only learned of the letter demanding her recusal this morning. To the surprise of the Isle of Wight branch of the NAACP, Phillips said she is no longer handling the case. Phillips said she requested the Attorney General's Office to act as special prosecutor on April 8 in an effort to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Phillips said she was informed that the Attorney General’s office would not be able to act as special prosecutor and said she then requested the assistance of a neighboring jurisdiction.
On April 21 the Isle of Wight Court appointed Hampton Commonwealth's Attorney Anton Bell as special prosecutor in the investigation.