No court date yet for AG lawsuit against Windsor

Published 5:03 pm Friday, June 16, 2023

Scheduling conflicts have stalled a state lawsuit alleging an “unlawful pattern” of conduct by Windsor’s police department.

Lawyers representing Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares and the town were to be back in court on May 24 for a hearing in Suffolk to resolve the state’s request for records the town has deemed “privileged and protected.”

According to Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita, the court was unable to accommodate the scheduled date. A new date has not been decided, she said.

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Isle of Wight County’s online court docket still lists the May 24 date. The circuit court clerk’s office had not received any updated scheduling orders as of June 5, according to staff.

The records sought by the state include complaints filed against WPD officers and the personnel records of two officers who, in 2020, held a Black Virginia National Guardsman at gunpoint and pepper-sprayed him during a traffic stop.

1st Lt. Caron Nazario sued Officer Daniel Crocker and ex-officer Joe Gutierrez in 2021, the latter of whom was fired after video footage of the encounter went viral online and sparked accusations of racism. A nine-member jury, however, awarded Nazario only $3,685 – far less than the $1 million-plus Nazario’s attorneys had requested – after finding Gutierrez liable for assault and Crocker liable for having illegally removed a firearm from Nazario’s car.

Attorneys for Windsor contended in an April 3 filing that the requested records are “in the exclusive possession and control” of Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle and that the town “has no authority over these records.”

Retired Judge H. Thomas Patrick Jr., himself a former police officer, refused to dismiss the case in October as lawyers for Windsor had requested.  

The lawsuit, filed by former Attorney General Mark Herring 17 days before he left office, is Virginia’s first of its kind under a 2021 state law intended to stop systemic civil rights violations by law enforcement. When Miyares took over in mid-January 2022, the case saw a complete turnover in personnel and a near-total rewrite of its original claims.  

The Nazario incident, according to court filings, was the town’s only documented use of force in 2020, though the WPD is alleged to have used force 20 times since 2016, six of which involved someone of African American descent.

Crocker, then newly graduated from the police academy, pulled Nazario over for seemingly lacking a rear license plate. Gutierrez, who was serving as Crocker’s field training officer, responded to the scene when Crocker reported a “felony traffic stop” to dispatchers.  Nazario had a temporary, expired New York plate taped to the inside of his car’s rear window, but Crocker said he didn’t see it and accused Nazario of eluding police for driving roughly a mile down Route 460 to a BP gas station before stopping.  The footage of the incident shows Nazario ask the officers, “What’s going on?” several times as they shout at him to keep his hands out of the window and exit his car. It culminates with Gutierrez repeatedly pepper-spraying Nazario, forcing him onto the ground and offering to release Nazario without charges if he would “let this go.”