Possible settlement in AG lawsuit against Windsor

Published 5:04 pm Friday, August 11, 2023

Windsor may have reached an out-of-court settlement with Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office to resolve a lawsuit alleging an “unlawful pattern” of conduct by the town’s police department.

Windsor’s Town Council voted 5-1 on Aug. 8 to enter an agreement with the state following a closed-session meeting for the stated purpose of discussing legal advice.

Councilman Jake Redd, who cast the sole dissenting vote, did not immediately respond to The Smithfield Times’ request for comments. Councilman Walter Bernacki was absent during the vote.

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According to Town Manager William Saunders, the agreement is intended to “resolve the pending litigation” and directs Saunders, Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle and Town Attorney Fred Taylor to “effectuate the terms,” including “the execution of any necessary orders.”

Saunders said no written agreement had been executed or entered by the court as of Aug. 10.

Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita declined to comment on the matter.

The case is still listed on Isle of Wight County’s online court docket as active. The docket as of Aug. 11 listed an Oct. 18 hearing at 10 a.m. in Suffolk as the case’s next court date.

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 complaint still alleges “racially-biased traffic enforcement, searches, seizures, detentions and excessive force” but no longer includes Herring’s allegation that Windsor police disproportionately stop Black motorists.

Herring, a Democrat, had alleged in his original complaint that Black drivers had accounted for 42% of the town’s traffic stops from July 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021, though Black people account for only 21% of the town’s population and 22% of the county’s. Miyares, a Republican, assigned new lawyers to the case after the three original attorneys of record under Herring left their employment with the Attorney General’s Office and struck the statistics Herring had cited.

Prior to the Aug. 8 vote, a hearing to resolve the state’s request for records the town deemed “privileged and protected” had been pending. The hearing had been originally scheduled for May 24 but postponed, with no date listed as of June.

The records sought by the state include complaints filed against any Windsor officer, 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 awarded Nazario $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.