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NAACP letter details reasons for demanding Riddle, Crocker resign

Isle of Wight County’s NAACP chapter on April 16 sent a letter to Windsor town officials explaining in detail why they are calling for Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle and Officer Daniel Crocker to resign or be fired.

Isle of Wight NAACP President Valerie Butler said she was “appalled” by statements Riddle made at an April 14 press conference in defense of two officers who held Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario at gunpoint during a traffic stop last December.

Video footage of the incident, which made national headlines, shows officers Crocker and Joe Gutierrez exiting their patrol cars and approaching Nazario’s vehicle with guns drawn after pulling him over. Gutierrez, who is seen on video telling Nazario he “should be” afraid to exit his vehicle and later pepper-sprays him, was fired last Sunday, but Crocker remains on the force.

“Officer Crocker ‘immediately’ escalated this situation by radioing to the dispatcher that this was a ‘high-risk traffic stop’ and that the driver was ‘eluding police’; only to later admit in a written report that Lt. Nazario was traveling at a low rate of speed,” Butler writes.

She then states Crocker further escalated the situation by drawing his gun and standing by idly as Gutierrez taunts Nazario and pepper-sprays him, and would later join in with Gutierrez in using “unnecessary physical force.”

“If this brief summary of the facts does not constitute immediate grounds for termination,” Butler writes, “Then we just ask the Town of Windsor and its officials, what does?”

Throughout the process, Riddle has been “complicit in this entire situation,” Butler writes.

During his press conference, Riddle “admitted the only reason he terminated Officer Gutierrez was due to the video going viral,” Butler writes. “This leads our community to wonder if any disciplinary actions that were taken against the officers on January 28, 2021, as originally stated by the Chief of Police.”

“Instead of taking full responsibility for the actions of these officers — as a leader should — Chief Riddle chooses to invoke favoritism by letting the community know of his longtime personal ties with Officer Crocker,” Butler writes.

“Many African Americans and other allies have lost complete confidence in the Town of Windsor and the Police Department due to their handling of this case,” Butler writes. “For the aforementioned reasons and many others, we are immediately calling for the resignations or terminations of Chief Rodney Riddle and Officer Daniel Crocker.”

“The nation is watching as this situation unfolds,” she adds. “Let us be abundantly clear, this Chapter of the NAACP will not stand by ‘idly’ as oppression and injustice occur to Army Lt. Caron Nazario and the Citizens of Windsor.”

The letter concludes by requesting the release of the police department’s newly-implemented January 2021 department-wide training manual, a timeline for implementing a citizens review board and the hiring of an active-duty African American patrol officer.

It is signed by Butler and Brandon Randleman, advocacy advisor to the Isle of Wight NAACP. Chief Riddle, state Sen. L. Louise Lucas and state Del. Emily Brewer are listed as having also received a copy.

Also Friday, the town of Windsor released body camera footage of a traffic stop involving Nazario that occurred about a month prior to the one where Crocker and Gutierrez were involved.

On Nov. 7 last year, a different officer stopped Nazario in the parking lot of Windsor’s Food Lion, telling Nazario that his radar had detected the lieutenant doing 54 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone.

Aside from the alleged speeding, the circumstances surrounding both traffic stops are nearly identical.

In both situations, officers report they are following an SUV with no visible rear license plate displayed that doesn’t immediately pull over. Nazario is wearing his Army uniform both times.

On Nov. 7, Nazario is heading east on Route 460 at dawn, and eventually stops at Food Lion. On Dec. 5, he’s heading west after dark, and stops at a BP gas station on the opposite side of the highway.

Other than that, the only real difference is the ways the officers react.

On Dec. 5, Crocker and Gutierrez respond by exiting their patrol cars with guns drawn, and proceed to shout conflicting commands at Nazario — at times telling him to keep his hands out of the window and other times telling him to get out of the car, which would have required putting at least one arm back inside the vehicle to unbuckle his seatbelt.

When Nazario tells Gutierrez he’s “honestly afraid” to exit his vehicle, Gutierrez tells him he “should be,” then pepper-sprays him and forces him out of his car and onto the ground.

Gutierrez was fired April 11 — four months after the Dec. 5 incident — which had more to do with video footage of Gutierrez’s conduct going viral than the conduct itself, according to statements Police Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle made during an April 14 press conference. At that same conference, Riddle defended his officers’ conduct, saying Nazario’s actions raised “red flags” for Crocker and Gutierrez based on their training.

But those same “red flags” — no visible plates, tinted windows, driving a ways before stopping — appear to be present in the video of the Nov. 7 incident as well, only that time the officer doesn’t pull his gun immediately upon exiting his patrol car.

Instead, a polite exchange follows, in stark contrast to the Dec. 5 interaction. The officer calmly asks Nazario for his license and registration. Nazario tells him he purchased his car in New York, and says Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles has been “backed up” in issuing him permanent plates.

Nazario then asks to be let off with a warning, which the officer declines, telling Nazario he’d been doing only one mile below the standard for reckless driving by speed.

Nazario has a court date of May 12 in Isle of Wight County General District Court to answer the speeding charge, according to court records.

Nazario is suing Crocker and Gutierrez personally for at least $1 million in federal court. His lawyer, Jonathan Arthur, blames COVID-19 protocols for the delay in Nazario being issued permanent plates.

He says the dealer — not Nazario — was the one to affix the temporary plate to the upper right-hand corner of Nazario’s rear window.

According to Jessica Cowardin, spokeswoman for the DMV, Virginia dealers typically issue temporary license plates for 30 days, but state law allows dealers to request an extension of up to 90 days under certain conditions.

“We cannot speak to New York’s processes and procedures for the issuance of temporary license plates,” but the turnaround time for receiving permanent Virginia plates can vary, depending on whether a driver has made an in-person appointment at one of the DMV’s customer service centers or applied for new plates by mail or at one of the DMV’s partner offices, Cowardin said.

“Customers who apply for a title and registration at a customer service center or DMV Select typically leave with their paperwork and permanent license plates the same day,” she said.

The town first uploaded the video of the Nov. 7 incident last week, but then took it down and uploaded an edited version. According to Town Manager William Saunders, the first video was taken down once he realized there were portions that included some of Nazario’s personal information, including his home address and driver’s license number.