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Questions linger in Windsor

A Town of Windsor press release late Sunday night — more than 48 hours after its police force made national headlines for pulling guns on and pepper-spraying an Army officer passing through town — raised more questions than it answered. A second release Monday further muddied the water.

  • Why was Officer Joe Gutierrez, who pepper-sprayed and “knee-struck” the Black and Hispanic serviceman, fired Sunday instead of in the aftermath of the December incident?
  • What disciplinary action was taken after a supposed internal investigation “immediately” after the December traffic stop found that Gutierrez and a second officer had violated department policy?
  • Did Gutierrez’s misconduct suddenly become worse in the wake of outrage by elected officials, civil rights leaders and the media?
  • Is there then a double standard — Gutierrez was employable as long as nobody knew about the incident, but suddenly disposable when the story blew up over the weekend and town officials were embarrassed?
  • If Gutierrez was fired suddenly in response to the national publicity rather than after the earlier internal investigation, did he receive due process?
  • When did the town ask the Virginia State Police to conduct an independent investigation?
  • If your intention is to earn — or, in this case, regain — the confidence of people you are sworn to protect, why conceal for months your supposed “sadness” about the incident, disclose nothing to your citizenry and wait until now to “reach out to community stakeholders and engage in dialogue”?
  • Had you not been sued and a media firestorm not ensued, would such dialogue have occurred?

We completely understand the “deer in the headlights” effect for a sleepy town whose appointed and elected officials are unaccustomed to dealing with the glare of the political and media spotlight. Many came of age during an era when such an incident never would have been known by anyone but the two officers and the man they pulled over. But times have changed.

It’s time now for town officials, both elected and appointed, to step up, answer the hard questions and be accountable. Otherwise, the “negative light” of the past few days is nothing compared to what’s coming as state, federal and media investigations intensify.