Help Windsor heal by hiring a new police chief

Published 4:54 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2021

By Ronald Prillwitz

It has been a little over a month since the Mayor of Windsor released his op-ed calling for the community to help Windsor heal after the video of Lt. Nazario being assaulted by the Windsor Police Department went viral. The Windsor Town Council released a press release promising the transparency of Windsor Police Department’s policies and procedures. Against the intent of the Mayor, Chief Riddle has signaled to Virginia that the Windsor Police Department has no intention of sharing their policies and procedures. Mayor Willis and the town of Windsor has fallen short in their promise to be transparent. The Windsor Town Council hopes that people will start to forget what happened to Lt. Nazario. A Black man in military uniform was verbally threatened with his hands in the air then physically assaulted after presenting no threat to the Windsor Police Department. I can promise that I along with many other concerned citizens will not forget. The only way for Windsor to heal is to hire a new police chief that doesn’t tolerate the type of behavior displayed by the officers involved with the incident.

During the press conference, Chief Riddle stated that the Windsor Police department didn’t owe Lt. Nazario an apology. Riddle went on to say that the only reason Office Joe Gutierrez was fired was due to pressure from social media. Chief Riddle said, “Officer Crocker and Officer Gutierrez [are] both are new to the department in the last year.” This is misleading at best and a blatant lie at worst. Joseph Gutierrez was hired by Windsor in December of 2013. He then served as an officer on at least a part-time basis from 2013 through 2016. Officer Gutierrez then took a job with nearby Smithfield Police Department before returning full time to the Windsor Police Department. Could Chief Riddle not have known or forgot about Officer Gutierrez’s history with Windsor? Chief Riddle helped train Officer Gutierrez in 2013 when he was Sergeant Riddle. I find it very hard to believe that the Chief forgot how long one of his four officers worked in his department.

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Mayor Willis ensured the community that there would be transparency as the town figured out how to prevent this from ever happening again. Chief Riddle made multiple attempts to undermine that transparency. Through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, I requested the policies of the Windsor Police Department, police reports of previous incidents involving the Windsor Police department using force, and emails from the town leadership discussing the incident about Lt. Nazario. I am currently drafting a list of policies that Windsor and other small police departments around Virginia could implement to avoid something like this from happening again. Windsor replied to my FOIA request with an estimated fee of over $11,000 citing that the Police Chief would have to personally handle the request at a rate of up to $41.62 per hour. Chief Riddle and the town of Windsor estimated that it could take over 300 hours to answer my request. To get a simple copy of the police department’s policies, the charge specified by Chief Riddle was $1,384.50. I have sent hundreds of FOIA requests and I have never seen such an inflated figure. For reference, I requested the policies for Stephens City Police Department policies in Frederick County. The cost I was quoted by Stephens City was less than $100, and I was reassured by the Stephens City FOIA representative that they would provide a refund if they answered the request in less than the quoted time.

Mayor Willis and the Windsor Town Council is the primary oversight mechanism for the Windsor Police Department. The mayor is allowing Chief Riddle to dictate what the town of Windsor releases by allowing him to provide excessively inflated costs for releasing the documents that pose the risk of shedding a negative light on his police department. The Windsor Town Council was not even fully aware of the incident with Lt. Nazario prior to the video going viral. It is obvious that no one is actively providing oversight to Chief Riddle or the Windsor Police Department. Chief Riddle’s actions and statements contradicts Windsor’s promises of transparency and accountability. Why does Windsor not want to release a copy of their policies to the public after promising transparency in their press releases?

We call on the Windsor Town Council to replace Chief Riddle with a leader that is willing to take immediate action after an incident involving the unnecessary use of force. We also call on the Windsor Town Council to actively provide oversight of the Windsor Police Department. It is unacceptable that Chief Riddle was able to keep the Windsor Town Council in the dark about the incident until after a video went viral. This is the time for the Windsor Town Council to step up and do the right thing.

Ronald Prillwitz is a fellow with the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts at the University of Chicago and a Boren Fellow with the National Security Education Program. He served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 10 years, completing multiple military deployments to Southwest Asia and the Middle East.