Windsor issues statement of support for officer who held Army officer at gunpoint

Published 12:30 am Wednesday, April 14, 2021

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Windsor’s Town Council is throwing its support behind Police Chief R.D. “Dan” Riddle and Officer Daniel Crocker, despite mounting calls for their firing.

Following a nearly two-hour closed session April 13 to discuss the “performance, discipline or resignation” of town employees and legal consultation, Mayor Glyn Willis called the council back into open session just after 11 p.m. to announce a five-point action plan that will guide the town’s future responses to the continued fallout from a viral video showing Windsor police holding Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario at gunpoint during a Dec. 5, 2020 traffic stop and pepper-spraying him.

One of the officers, Joe Gutierrez, was fired last Sunday after footage from his and Crocker’s body cameras went viral over the weekend and made national headlines. But Crocker is still employed.

Willis’ plan includes cooperating with the Virginia State Police investigation Gov. Ralph Northam ordered April 11. He also pledged that the town would post the body cam videos and all answers to Freedom of Information Act requests concerning the incident on its website, and schedule weekly council work sessions to engage the community.

“We as a council fully support the Windsor Police Department, and that includes Chief Riddle and Officer Crocker,” Willis said.

There was no public reaction to Willis’s statement, as by the time he made it, only the council and members of the media remained. Hours earlier, it was a different story.

A group of Black Lives Matter 757 protesters organized outside the Windsor Town Center roughly an hour before the meeting, and more than a dozen speakers — Black and white — addressed the council members during the meeting’s open session. Japharii Jones, the group’s organizer, called for criminal charges against Gutierrez.

Paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jones said his purpose in protesting outside the Windsor Town Center prior to the meeting was to let “the entire 757 know that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.”

Riddle, who typically attends each Town Council meeting to present his departmental report, was absent that evening. Nor were any other Windsor police officers present — a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by citizens’ time speaker Judy Dempsey.

Dempsey, an Air Force veteran, lives in Windsor with her husband, Clarence. She said watching the body cam footage of Nazario’s interaction with officers Daniel Crocker and Joe Gutierrez made her “ashamed of the town” she has grown to love.

“Where’s Windsor’s police department?” she asked. “I know Riddle. I taught Riddle’s kids … but is there anybody here tonight to answer any of our questions?”

“I think that first step [firing Gutierrez] was only taken because we went viral and there was a lot of public pressure,” said Amanda McKinney of Zuni, who joined in Jones’ BLM protest before the meeting. “Much more needs to be done. I think the chief needs to be fired and the other officer as well.”

“What happened was awful, but not representative of all of us,” she added.

“There is a culture of systemic racism that has taken hold of this county,” said citizens’ time speaker Rev. W.L. Williams.

But not every speaker was of a similar mindset. Volpe Boykin, who leads the Southern and Central Isle of Wight County Citizens Group, said the group wished to “express its support for the town of Windsor police department and Town Council.”

“We agree with and support the actions they have taken in reference to the Dec. 5, 2020 incident involving Office Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker. We expect the town of Windsor to continue its support for Officer Daniel Crocker unless it’s proven through due process that he intentionally acted improperly.”

“I don’t care who you are, if you have never done that job you cannot know what it’s like to do it,” Boykin added.

“We weren’t there; we don’t know the whole story,” Chris Wingard, another citizens group member, said. “I can’t put myself in that position … but I do encourage you to support Officer Crocker just in having that chance to go through due process … If he’s found guilty, so be it. But if not, then we need to accept that as well.”

Valerie Butler, president of Isle of Wight County’s NAACP chapter, said she was “disappointed” to hear Wingard’s and Boykin’s remarks.

“I cannot understand how any organization can condone the actions that we’ve seen on that video … it was a simple traffic stop but yet the police officers got out of their cars with their guns drawn,” she said. “You could not know how I feel as a Black American unless you’ve walked in my shoes and experienced some of the things that we’ve experienced … If a police officer is that uncomfortable patrolling the street then as Volpe Boykin said, no I don’t know how they feel, but they are sworn to protect and serve our community, and if they’re not comfortable with that capacity then they need to choose another profession.”