More than a year after two policemen pepper-sprayed a Black and Latino US Army officer, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has sued the town of Windsor, alleging its police department has discriminated against African Americans and violated their civil rights.
It is the first case brought under a new law that allows the state’s leading law-enforcement officer “to sue to stop systemic violations of Virginians’ rights,” according to a release from Herring’s office.
The suit was spurred by an incident in December 2020, when two Windsor Police Department officers pulled over 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario and repeatedly used pepper spray on him and pointed their guns at him, according to the release.
“While our investigation was spurred by the egregious treatment against Lt. Nazario that we all saw in bodycam footage, we discovered that this incident was indicative of much larger problems within the department,” Herring said in the statement.
“Our months-long investigation uncovered huge disparities in enforcement against African American drivers, and a troubling lack of policies and procedures to prevent discriminatory or unconstitutional policing,” Herring said. “We even discovered evidence that officers were actually being trained to go ‘fishing’ and engage in pretextual stops.”
The suit was filed Thursday in Isle of Wight Circuit Court. It alleges Windsor “violated the Virginia Human Rights Act (‘VHRA’) and the Virginia Public Integrity and Law Enforcement Misconduct Act (‘VPLEM’) in its provision of law enforcement services through the Windsor Police Department.”
CNN reached out to the Windsor Police Department and town officials but did not hear back.
The suit says the Windsor Police Department “lacks adequate policies to ensure that it is using force in a non-discriminatory manner, that it is performing traffic stops in a constitutional, non-pretextual, and bias-free manner, and that members of the public are able to submit and have their complaints heard in a transparent way that upholds the principles of due process.”
The attorney general’s investigation found that Black drivers made up around 42% of the department’s traffic stops from July 2020 through September 2021, the statement said. Black people were stopped 200% to 500% more often than would be expected based on the town’s population.
The officers who pulled over Nazario said they thought he was missing a license plate on his SUV.
Town Manager William Saunders confirmed to CNN in April that one officer had been fired and the other remained on the job.
Nazario filed a lawsuit in April in federal court for $1 million in compensatory damages, claiming the officers violated his rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.
The officers have denied the claims and the case is ongoing.
CNN’s Madeline Holcombe, Ray Sanchez and Kaanita Iyer contributed to this report.