Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Sunday he’s ordered the state police to conduct an independent investigation into the incident involving two officers pepper-spraying and threatening an Army lieutenant last year during a traffic stop.
“The incident in Windsor is disturbing and angered me – and I am directing the Virginia State Police to conduct an independent investigation,” Northam wrote in a statement.
“Our Commonwealth has done important work on police reform, but we must keep working to ensure that Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable,” he added.
Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, is suing the police officers over the incident, which attracted widespread criticism after video footage emerged.
The lawsuit states officers in Windsor, Virginia, drew their guns, pointed them at Lieutenant Nazario and used a slang term to suggest he was facing execution before pepper-spraying him and knocking him to the ground.
Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker had radioed that he was attempting to stop a vehicle that had tinted windows and no rear license plate, and said he was “eluding police.” Nazario’s attorney later said he wasn’t trying to elude the officer, but was trying to stop in a well-lit area.
Another officer, Joe Gutierrez, was driving by when he heard Crocker’s call, saw him attempting to stop the SUV and decided to join the traffic stop.
Video shows Nazario with his hands in the air outside the driver’s window as the officers approached his vehicle with guns pointed at him and demanded he step out of the car.
“I’m honestly afraid to get out,” be said.
“Yeah, you should be!” one of the officers responded.
The lawsuit says by the time the two officers reached Nazario’s SUV, the license plate was visible in the rear.
In his statement on Sunday Northam said that he had invited Nazario to meet with him soon to discuss “the larger dialogue about reform in our country.”