Windsor Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle repeatedly viewed videos of a December traffic stop in which two of his officers point their guns at a minority Army lieutenant and pepper spray him.
Watching it angered and upset him, Riddle said during a news conference Wednesday.
Some things one officer is heard saying on the video — including telling Army Lt. Caron Nazario he “should be” scared to get out of his SUV after the officers pulled him over, and that Nazario was “fixin to ride the lightning” — were inexcusable, the chief said.
“It doesn’t help us, it doesn’t help the community and it doesn’t have any place in law enforcement,” Riddle said. “Those kind of comments just help to erode an already rocky relationship the police have with the public at this time.”
The news conference was the first time the chief had spoken publicly about the incident since stories about it broke last week and video of it went viral on social media.
The body cam videos show Officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker approaching Nazario’s Chevrolet Tahoe with guns drawn and shouting conflicting orders. When Nazario, 27, tells them he’s afraid to get out, Gutierrez says he should be, then pepper sprays him multiple times. Once Nazario is out of the vehicle, Gutierrez knee strikes him to the ground and handcuffs him. The officers later decide to let the Army medic go without filing charges.
Nazario filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month against Gutierrez and Crocker in which he accuses them of assaulting him and violating his constitutional rights. He is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
Riddle said his office started an internal investigation three days after the traffic stop. It was concluded by Jan. 28 and “disciplinary action” was taken, he said. He declined to say what that action was and whether it involved both officers.
After the officers’ body cam video spread on social media over the past several days, the chief said he made the decision Sunday to fire Gutierrez.
“As things continued to unfold we got to a point somewhere when I lost faith in his ability to serve the community to the standards we expect it to be,” Riddle said.
The seven-member police department prides itself on the good relationship it has with Windsor’s approximately 2,600 residents, he said, and he believed Gutierrez’s actions caused irreparable harm to it.
“That (relationship) was destroyed by the social media postings and the media coverage of it. There was no way in my mind he could ever engage in this community in an effective manner beyond that day,” Riddle said.
The chief, however, said he believes Crocker can still be a good police officer and chose to keep him on the force. He said Crocker is a lifelong member of the community. The chief has known him since he was a teenager.
Riddle said there were repeated times when Crocker could be seen trying to de-escalate the situation through his tone, pitch and demeanor. The same could not be said for Gutierrez, he said.
“That is someone who has the makings of being a police officer,” Riddle said of Crocker.
Riddle said the officers’ biggest mistake was not doing more to de-escalate the incident. But he also believes that Nazario could have complied sooner. The chief said he does not believe the department owed the Army officer an apology and also believes the traffic stop was legal.
Crocker initiated the stop and radioed he was pulling the SUV over for having tinted windows and no rear license plate. Nazario’s lawsuit stated he had a temporary tag taped inside the rear window and that it can be seen on the body cam video.
Crocker also radioed he considered it a high-risk stop because Nazario continued driving after he signaled for him to pull over. Nazario claims in his lawsuit he was waiting until he found a well-lit place.
There were plenty of lighted areas he could have stopped at before then, Riddle said. He also said Nazario could have done things like putting his hazard lights on and putting a hand out his window to point to where he planned to stop.
“I’m going to own what we did wrong,” the chief said. “I can’t speak for him.”
Jonathan Arthur, Nazario’s attorney, issued a statement afterward in which he disputed Riddle’s claims that his client didn’t comply with orders and wasn’t hurt. Arthur also said the chief failed to address an illegal search of Nazario’s vehicle and misstatements the officers made on their reports.
Riddle also said he sees the incident as a teachable moment for the department. He compared it to the day after a football game when players and coaches watch game tape.
“After the game on Sunday what does everyone do?” he asked.
“Win or lose, bad or good, everybody goes into the building and gets on the film. ‘Hey where can we do better? What did we do good? What did we do bad? Where do we gotta make changes. How do we become more efficient and do a better job? And that’s the same thing we’re going to do here.”
Jane Harper, 757-222-5097, email@example.com