The NAACP has called to end qualified immunity for police officers in Virginia after a video of a uniformed Black and Latino military officer being pepper-sprayed and forced to the ground at gunpoint during a traffic stop late last year recently went viral.
Valerie Butler, president of the NAACP’s Isle of Wight branch, made the demand Monday during a news conference regarding the Dec. 5 incident, which occurred in the Town of Windsor, near Norfolk.
Butler called for Gov. Ralph Northam to hold a special session for lawmakers to repeal qualified immunity, which essentially protects public officials from civil suits for on-duty actions deemed within reason.
“There are so many things that went wrong with this traffic stop,” Butler said, USA Today reported. “But it is indicative of what is happening around the country and how officers walk away from cases with no disciplinary action.”
The military officer, Army Lt. Caron Nazario, was driving through Windsor when Officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker attempted to pull him over because his SUV didn’t have a rear license plate. After driving for a short distance to get to a well-lit area, Nazario pulled into a gas station, where the officers drew their weapons and ordered him to get out of the vehicle.
Nazario put his hands out of the window, saying he feared exiting the vehicle for his own safety. The officers’ body-camera footage shows Nazario then being pepper-sprayed while sitting in the driver seat before eventually getting out, at which point the officers forced him to the ground and handcuffed him.
Nazario, whose vehicle had a temporary plate taped in the rear window, was later released at the scene and not charged.
Video of the incident, both from the officers’ body cameras and Nazario’s cellphone, went viral over the weekend, drawing outrage from citizens and lawmakers alike. Nazario has filed a lawsuit seeking more than $1 million against Gutierrez and Crocker, USA Today reported.
Town Manager William Saunders said Gutierrez was fired after an internal investigation.
“The Town of Windsor has remained transparent about this event since the initial stop, and has openly provided documents and related video to attorneys for Lt. Nazario,” Saunders said in a statement Sunday. “Rather than deflect criticism, we have addressed these matters with our personnel administratively, we are reaching out to community stakeholders to engage in dialogue, and commit ourselves to additional discussions in the future.”