Virginia lawsuit stemming from police pepper-spraying an Army officer will be settled

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A town in Virginia has agreed to independent reviews of misconduct allegations against its police force to settle a lawsuit filed after a Black and Latino Army lieutenant was pepper sprayed during a traffic stop.

The town of Windsor also agreed to more officer training as part of a settlement agreement signed Thursday. In exchange, the state Attorney General's Office will drop its argument that Windsor police broke a new law by depriving Caron Nazario of his rights.

Windsor agreed to keep working toward accreditation by the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission. Police also will hold officer training exercises twice a year and submit to the Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney reviewing any allegations of excessive force or misconduct against its officers.

The Attorney General began investigating the town after a December 2020 traffic stop involving two Windsor Police Department officers and Nazario, an Army lieutenant who is Black and Latino.

The traffic stop, captured on video, showed officers drawing their guns, pointing them at Nazario, who was in uniform, and using a slang term to suggest he was facing execution before pepper-spraying him and knocking him to the ground. He was not arrested.

The Attorney General’s Office said its investigation found that while about 22% of Windsor’s population is Black, they accounted for about 42% of the department’s traffic stops between July 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. The department also searched more vehicles driven by Black motorists than by white drivers.

Nazario sued the two officers involved in his encounter for $1 million in damages. But in January, a jury in Richmond mostly sided with the officers and awarded the soldier a total of $3,685.

After investigating the traffic stop, then Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring said his agency found it was part of larger problem with the department.

Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares, who defeated Herring in a subsequent election, signed the settlement agreement with the town of about 3,000. Windsor lies about 70 miles (112 kilometers) southeast of Richmond.

“What we all saw in the shocking traffic stop video involving Army Lt. Caron Nazario was an egregious and unjust use of power," Miyares said in a statement. “I join the hundreds of thousands of good and decent law enforcement officers who stand against the kind of police misconduct we witnessed.”

Windsor officials said the town signed the agreement to “avoid further unfair and unjustified financial impositions placed upon the citizens of Windsor by the Office of the Attorney General.”

Over the past seven years, Windsor officers used force 20 times in 23,000 encounters. Six of those encounters involved African Americans, one of which led to a valid complaint, according to the town.

“The Town of Windsor has worked diligently within its police force to enhance training, improve policies and procedures, and ensure the public that its law enforcement operates without prejudice and within the law,” the town said in a statement.