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NAACP launches petition, plans march in support of Nazario

State and local NAACP leaders have launched a website where people can sign a petition to Windsor’s Town Council demanding the resignation or termination of Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle and Officer Daniel Crocker.

They’ll also be taking their campaign in support of Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario on the road tomorrow to Petersburg, where a march is planned on the campus of Virginia State University, Nazario’s alma mater.

The march will take place at 4 p.m. in the parking lot of Rogers Stadium, 1 Hayden Drive, Petersburg, and proceed through the university’s campus to Virginia Hall, where local leaders will make speeches.

“Like Lt. Nazario, a graduate of Virginia State University, many young African American students who often come through Windsor while traveling along Rt. 460 have had similar horrific experiences with the police during traffic stops,” states Valerie Butler, president of Isle of Wight County’s NAACP chapter, in an April 28 press release announcing the march.

Nazario, who is of Black and Latinx descent, had been driving down Route 460 through Windsor the evening of Dec. 5, 2020 when officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker stopped him allegedly for not having a rear license plate. A temporary New York tag was affixed inside the vehicle’s rear window, but the officers claimed they didn’t see it and accused him of “eluding police” — owing to his having driven roughly a mile to a well-lit BP gas station after he saw the flashing blue lights on their patrol cars. The officers’ body camera footage shows both exiting their patrol cars with guns drawn, and a heated verbal exchange, with Gutierrez eventually pepper-spraying the lieutenant and forcing him out of his vehicle and onto the ground. Nazario has since filed a $1 million federal lawsuit against both officers.

Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle fired Gutierrez April 11, a decision he said during an April 14 press conference had more to do with the video footage of the traffic stop going viral than Gutierrez’s actions themselves. Crocker, whom the chief said he’s known since the officer was a teenager, remains on the force.

At that same press conference, Riddle also defended both officers’ actions, saying certain actions Nazario took raised “red flags” based on the officers’ training. Windsor’s Town Council has issued a public statement of support for Riddle and Crocker, despite mounting calls from Isle of Wight County’s NAACP chapter for their firing or resignation.

On April 21, Isle of Wight NAACP leaders met with Riddle, Windsor Mayor Glyn Willis and Town Manager William Saunders. There, they again demanded Riddle and Crocker be fired or resign.

“We had hoped through this meeting the town would have been open to healing the divide of the community, but instead, the town of Windsor stood firm on their support of these two officers,” Butler writes. “The Chief of Police and the town of Windsor have made it abundantly clear they will only respond to this unfortunate incident when the nation is watching. Therefore, we are launching a National Major Public Engagement Campaign in order to pursue justice for Lt. Nazario and for the citizens of the Town of Windsor.”

The new website, www.justiceinwindsor.com, takes visitors to a page showing images of Crocker holding his gun and Nazario with his hands in the air, with a link to “take action now,” which directs visitors to the petition where they can call for Crocker’s and Riddle’s resignation or termination. Further down on the web page is an embedded YouTube video titled “Why they must go” and a list of the names and phone numbers for Windsor’s council members, town manager and police department. Below that is a “donate” button that takes visitors to a site where they can donate funds to the NAACP in support of its campaign to end qualified immunity for law enforcement officers in Virginia.

According to the American Bar Association, qualified immunity shields government employees from liability for their misconduct, even if they break the law. Under the doctrine, police officers can never be sued for violating someone’s civil rights, unless they violated “clearly established law.”