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Gutierrez, Crocker granted extra time to answer lawsuit

NAACP organizes petition, march in support of Nazario

A federal judge on April 27 granted ex-Windsor officer Joe Gutierrez an additional two weeks to respond to Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario’s lawsuit accusing him of police brutality. The following day, the court granted the same for Officer Daniel Crocker, who is named as a co-defendant in Nazario’s suit.

According to Gutierrez’s attorney, John B. Mumford of the firm Hancock, Daniel & Johnson P.C., a delay is needed to answer the numerous allegations — 51 in total — made in the suit’s statement of facts. As such, the original April 30 deadline for Gutierrez to file a written response has now been extended to May 15. Crocker has until May 18.

The lawsuit contends Nazario, who is of Black and Latinx descent, had been driving down Route 460 through Windsor the evening of Dec. 5, 2020, when Crocker and Gutierrez 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.

Crocker has retained representation by Anne C. Lahren of the firm Pender & Coward P.C.

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.

Windsor’s Town Council has issued a public statement of support for Riddle and Crocker, though state and local NAACP leaders continue to call for the officers’ ouster.

On April 28, the NAACP launched a website where people can sign a petition to Windsor’s Town Council demanding the resignation or termination of Riddle and Crocker.

They’ve also now taken their campaign in support of Nazario on the road to Petersburg, where a march took place on the campus of Virginia State University, Nazario’s alma mater.

It began at 4 p.m. April 29 in the parking lot of Rogers Stadium and proceeded through the university’s campus to Virginia Hall, where local leaders made speeches.

“Like Lt. Nazario, a graduate of Virginia State University, many young African American students who often come through Windsor while traveling along Route 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.

Isle of Wight County NAACP leaders previously met with Riddle, Windsor Mayor Glyn Willis and Town Manager William Saunders April 21. 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.”

The town of Windsor didn’t hold the second of its promised weekly community engagement work sessions on April 27. According to Town Manager William Saunders, Mayor Glyn Willis had a schedule conflict, but there will be a work session Tuesday, May 4, starting around 5:30 p.m.