In an afternoon press conference, Rodney Riddle answered questions and gave explanation.
WINDSOR-His officers made mistakes. Windsor Police Chief Rodney Riddle admits that up front. When he looks at the video from that Dec. 5 traffic stop, parts annoy him and others make him mad. But at the beginning, he thought both men did a good job.
“Those officers initially acted relatively well, in my opinion,” Riddle said in a Wednesday press conference.
Riddle said while things escalated quickly, he had no problem with the officers drawing guns as soon as they got out of their vehicles. They reacted based off their training, he said. The driver’s actions made both officers believe this would not be a regular traffic stop. The driver he’s referring to is U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario. On Dec. 5, Nazario was driving home from Fort Lee in his newly purchased Chevy Tahoe when Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker initiated a traffic stop.
Riddle said Nazario’s vehicle had no visible tag or license plate they could run, so that sent up a red flag. Also, because the vehicle was tinted, you couldn’t see how many people were inside. Those things, combined with the fact Nazario slowed down but didn’t stop, justified officers drawing their guns when Nazario did pull into a local BP gas station just a minute later, Riddle said. We detailed why Nazario didn’t stop and what happened after guns were drawn in this report.
Riddle also said he approved of how the officers switched weapons, going from guns to a taser and then pepper spray. What he didn’t approve of, however, is how they talked to Nazario.
A Question of Discipline
During the incident, Windsor police officers ordered Nazario to put his hands up and out of the window, which he did. But they also told him to get out of the vehicle, which would mean reaching inside, unlocking his seat belt and opening the door.
In other situations, officials have misinterpreted reaching for the door as going for a gun. Because of this, Nazario said he was scared to get out, to which Officer Joe Gutierrez replied, “yeah, you should be”. Gutierrez then told the man he was “being arrested – no, being detained for obstruction of justice” since Nazario “was not cooperating.”
Gutierrez then tried to open the locked driver’s side door. When that failed, he tried to drag Nazario out with an armbar, again despite the locked door. Then he pulled out pepper spray and sprayed Nazario with it multiple times. The body cam video shows all of this.
During this time, Gutierrez also tells Nazario that he’s “fixin’ to ride the lightning,” which most people equate with executions and the election chair. Riddle said he interpreted it another way.
“The term ride the lightning, I take that based on my police career as a reference to an electronic controlled weapon or a taser,” Riddle said. “[Still], that’s not how it’s done. That was inappropriate. It created an unnecessary fear in Mr. Nazario, perhaps. Those kind of comments, they don’t serve any purpose. Those kind of comments just continue to erode an already very rocky relationship that the police have with the public at this time.”
What both officers missed was the opportunity to verbally calm things down, Riddle said.
What Happened After The Traffic Stop?
Anytime someone in Windsor’s seven person police department uses pepper spray, they open an investigation to make sure it was justified. The situation took place on Dec. 5, the investigation was opened Dec. 8 and closed on Jan. 28. At that point, Riddle said, disciplinary action was handed down, although he declined to explain further.
The department took further action after the body cam video went viral this weekend, firing Gutierrez. Riddle said once the video got out, he didn’t see any other option.
“As things continued to unfold, we got to a point Sunday where I lost faith in his ability to continue to serve the community to the standards we expected,” Riddle said. “We’re a small community. We’re 2600 people. We know just about everybody here.”
That’s why the officers have good relationships within the Windsor community, Riddle said. It’s because of their ability to interact with local people and build trust.
“That was destroyed by the social media posting, the media coverage of it,” he said. “There was no way in my mind that he could ever engage in this community in an effective manner beyond that day. As this thing kind of gathered legs and became viral, I personally felt there was no way he could effectively serve our community at that point.”
But why was Gutierrez fired and not Crocker? It’s because Crocker still has a lot to learn, Riddle said. He just graduated from the academy in October and is still in his field training phase. Gutierrez was serving as his training officer.
“This is a teachable moment,” Riddle said, adding that he believes Crocker has the makings of a good police officer. That’s why Crocker wasn’t released at the same time as Gutierrez.
Windsor Police Bring In State Help
The incident happened, Riddle said. It’s out there and done. There’s nothing he can do to change that. Instead, what he can do is work to improve the department.
“What we have is an opportunity to build, to grow, to improve,” Riddle said. I’ve been n in touch with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, to come in and offer training,”
That training would involve two different things. First, officers would go through implicit bias training. Second, they would work on how to de-escalate a situation. Beyond that, Riddle said his staff would be talking with the community about the issue.
“At the end of the day, each and every one of the incidents we have, it’s an opportunity to build a relationship,” Riddle said. “We’ve got work to do, we know we’ve got work to do.”