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Isle of Wight NAACP wants governor to call special session to end qualified immunity after viral traffic stop incident

Army Officer Traffic Stop Lawsuit
Posted at 3:06 PM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-13 11:50:29-04

ISLE OF WIGHT Co., Va. - The traffic stop of Army Lt. Caron Nazario has brought national attention and outrage to the quiet town of Windsor in Isle of Wight County.

A police officer has been fired for the interaction with the uniformed Army lieutenant.

Monday at 6 p.m., members of the Isle of Wight NAACP gathered off Route 460 where the intense incident unfolded in December and spoke out against the matter. They're calling for a proper investigation, police reform, and a plan of action in response to the incident.

“This is not just about one traffic stop,” said Da'Quan Love, the state executive director for the Virginia NAACP. “This is about decency, justice and frankly accountability.”

The group is also calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to call a special session so lawmakers can pass a bill ending qualified immunity.

“We are focused on ensuring accountability, ensuring transparency and that policies are changed to prevent this from happening again,” Love said. “We are done dying.”

They've launched a website where people can sign a petition to show their support for the special session.

Del. Jeff Bourne is leading the charge among the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) in its call to repeal qualified immunity.

“I was on pins and needles the first time I watched it because we’ve seen so many of these incidents go horribly wrong,” Bourne said. "Clearly, this is yet the latest example of Black and Brown people being treated extremely differently by our law enforcement officers.”

During a special session in September of 2020 and the regular session in January 2021, Virginia's Senate Judiciary Committee killed Bourne's bill that would have ended qualified immunity protection for police officers.

“Often times these cases are dismissed and kicked out of court very early on without a real trying of the facts and circumstances around each of these cases," said Bourne. "We want to lift that bar, remove that hurdle.”

Windsor Police tried to pull Nazario over because they said he didn't have a rear license plate displayed. Nazario said he drove into a well-lit area to pull over, but the officers thought it was a high-risk traffic stop.

Two police officers can be seen on video yelling at Nazario with their guns out. They were telling him to get out of his SUV.

“I’m actively serving this country, and this is how you’re going to treat me? I didn’t do anything,” Nazario could be heard saying before he was pepper sprayed.

“I’m honestly afraid to get out,” Nazario said on the video. An officer can be heard replying, “Yeah, you should be.”

Joe Guiterrez was the officer who was fired, but it's not clear exactly when he was terminated.

The Isle of Wight sheriff captain said former Windsor Police Officer Gutierrez was a deputy from August 2017 – July 2020. He added that Gutierrez left to accept a position with Windsor Police.

Windsor has not provided updates on the status of officer Daniel Crocker, but town officials have said officers have undergone additional training since the incident.

Nazario's attorney, Joseph Arthur, said he is still left with questions about the town's response. Nazario is suing the officers.

“We welcome the fact that he’s been terminated. The video demonstrates that the officer should not have been an officer. We have questions about why it was one and not both,” Arthur said.

News 3 tried to get additional answers from town officials on Monday, but the office is currently closed.

Other officials didn't respond to emails or phone calls.

Later Monday, the Town of Windsor said in a statement that all body cam footage of Officers Gutierrez and Crocker was posted on the town's official website.

Town officials added that the chief of police is continuing to implement training in accordance with Department of Criminal Justice standards for the Windsor Police Department, some of which will take place during the Virginia State Police investigation, which has begun.

"Our goal is to always ensure transparency of our practices and procedures; we will provide information as possible, and as allowed, during the investigation," the town said.

Video of the incident has drawn international attention.

For now, many questions remain about the incident and the response and the community is pushing for more answers.

A GoFundMe was created by the law firm representing Lt. Nazario, Thomas H Roberts and Associates PC. Funds will go to pay Lt. Nazario's litigation fees and anything additional will be used to help people in similar cases.