WINDSOR, Va. (WWBT) - Windsor’s police chief explained the decision to fire a police officer four months after pepper-spraying an Army officer in a video that went viral over the weekend.
The chief says Officer Joe Gutierrez was not fired for his actions, but rather for the video itself.
Windsor Police Chief Rodney Riddle says former Officer Joe Gutierrez was disciplined in January after an investigation into the traffic stop but says once the infamous video became public, he lost faith that Gutierrez could continue on the seven-person force.
“As this thing kind of gathered legs and became viral, I personally felt there was personally no way he could effectively serve the community at that point,” Riddle said.
Gutierrez is the officer seen in the body cam video, pepper-spraying and pointing his gun at Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario.
The chief says now that it’s obvious from the video that there were more than enough opportunities for the now-fired officer to de-escalate the situation before things turned ugly.
“I can’t speak for him, but I’m gonna own up to what we did. My guys missed opportunities to verbally de-escalate that thing and change that outcome,” Riddle said.
But Chief Riddle also put some of the blame on Nazario for not complying sooner with the officer’s commands, and because of that, he does not deserve an apology.
“Lieutenant Nazario took certain actions that created where we got to, and I think that you know... we’ll let the courts work that part of it out,” Riddle said. “At the end of the day, I’m glad nobody got hurt. That situation ended in the best way that it could have. I wish he would have complied a whole lot earlier.”
In response, community activist Brandon Randleman says that officer Gutierrez shouldn’t be the only person in the Windsor Police Department without a job.
“We cannot believe some of the things that were said during the press conference,” Randleman said.
Following the news conference, the Isle of Wight Branch of the NAACP called for the resignation of Riddle.
“After watching the press conference held by officials in the Town of Windsor regarding the incident involving Lt Nazario we are appalled at some of the statements made by the Town officials as well as the Chief of Police. Therefore we are calling for the immediate resignation of Chief Rodney Riddle,” the Isle of Wight Branch of the NAACP posted on Facebook.
The branch said it would be sending their reasons for the resignation call, amongst other things, in a letter to local and state leaders.
“It’s time for this police chief to go,” Randleman said. “How do you as a leader state that ‘I did not discipline someone because of their actions, I only disciplined because the whole world is watching?’ That’s not a leader.”
Now, Virginia State Police and the FBI are conducting their own investigations into that Dec. 5 traffic stop, as well as the department as a whole.
Riddle says he’s confident both investigations will show that Windsor does not have a history of improper policing.
In the meantime, the police chief says said the department will be working with state police agencies on new training measures on de-escalation tactics among other things to make sure that incidents like this don’t happen again.
“That incident is out there it’s over it’s done,” Riddle said. “We can’t take it back, we can’t fix it, but what we have is an opportunity to learn and to grow and to teach our officers to get some more input from our community.”
Anyone with information regarding the traffic stop is asked to contact VSP at email@example.com.
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