Mayor: Help Windsor heal

Published 7:35 pm Thursday, April 15, 2021

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By Mayor Glyn Willis

April has been a tough month for the town of Windsor.

Once a lawsuit was filed against two of our police officers, the world saw a very disturbing body cam video of a traffic stop in December on Route 460 that went horribly wrong. Some actions and certainly language employed by one of the policemen was uncalled for and served to escalate a situation when the job of public safety officers is to always deescalate. I can fully understand why so many citizens were upset with how Lt. Nazario was treated. I was too.

When the Town Council met in person on April 13, we heard extremely heartfelt concerns from residents of both Windsor and neighboring communities. They rightly wanted to know how this could happen in our town and why our police chief had not fired both officers immediately after viewing the body cam footage. That, however, is not leadership. The job of Chief Rodney “Dan” Riddle and Town Manager William Saunders was to fully assess what occurred, make changes where appropriate and assure something like this never happens again.

That is what they did starting Dec. 6, what they are still doing, and what they told the media April 14, at the most well attended news conference in Windsor history. Chief Riddle, who has worked diligently to build our now seven-person force since assuming its command in 2016, took full ownership of the situation, telling reporters that he immediately ordered an internal investigation of the incident, turned over the body cam footage to Lt. Nazario’s attorney and disciplined officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker. He eventually fired Gutierrez after determining, correctly, that his behavior on Dec. 5, among other infractions the chief was not at liberty to reveal, made it impossible for Gutierrez to have the trust of his superiors or our residents.

Officer Crocker, said the Chief, could have performed better himself, but as a trainee fresh out of the academy, he tried to verbally reduce the stress level. Crocker, a Windsor native, learned valuable lessons that evening, and we all believe he will mature into an excellent public servant. He deserves a second chance.

Obviously there are those who disagree. They want Riddle and Crocker dismissed too, but that is not in the best interests of the town. While not diminishing what occurred on Dec. 5, we need these individuals to remain in our service. They have been refined by the incident and will go forward better able to serve.

At the news conference, both Chief Riddle and Manager Saunders made clear that the town is open to constructive criticism and more than willing to meet with local individuals and groups who want to be certain that no one, whether they live in Windsor or are just passing through, is ever mistreated by police. The chief was particularly irritated that we did not provide proper respect to a member of the military, which is such a significant part of our entire community in Hampton Roads and Western Tidewater.

Because Lt. Nazario is suing the officers, the chief could not speak as freely as he might have wanted, particularly about whether a formal apology is appropriate. But I know Dan Riddle well, and I have no doubt he is incensed about this blot on his department and determined to make WPD the pride of our town. He welcomes a state police investigation and any other input from colleagues in law enforcement. There is no cover-up and no direction from council to do anything other than speak frankly and act expeditiously to earn the trust of the populace.

We all should help Chief Riddle and his officers grow from this unfortunate event, because we need them focused on the welfare of all they come in contact with, regardless of their race, gender or even military rank. It is what you expect, and so do I.

Windsor Mayor Glyn Willis