NAACP asks Isle of Wight’s top prosecutor to recuse herself

Published 6:11 pm Friday, May 14, 2021

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Isle of Wight’s NAACP chapter is calling upon the county’s commonwealth attorney, Georgette Phillips, to recuse herself from the Virginia State Police investigation of a traffic stop in Windsor last year where officers Daniel Crocker and Joe Gutierrez held a Black and Latinx Army lieutenant at gunpoint and Gutierrez pepper-sprayed him.

But Phillips says that’s already happened. Last month, she contacted Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office and made the same request as the NAACP, namely that he appoint someone from his office to serve as a special prosecutor.

“When I was informed that the AG’s Office would not be able to act as special prosecutor, I requested the assistance of a neighboring jurisdiction,” Phillips said. “Upon my motion, on 21 April 2021, the Isle of Wight Circuit Court entered an order appointing the Honorable Anton Bell, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Hampton, as special prosecutor in the investigation and prosecution of Daniel Crocker and Joseph Gutierrez.”

Gutierrez was fired April 11 but Crocker remains on the force.

According to Corinne Geller, public relations director for the Virginia State Police, the independent investigation of the incident Gov. Ralph Northam ordered April 11 after the officers’ body camera footage went viral online and made national news continues. Once it’s completed, the state police plan to turn the criminal investigative file over to the commonwealth attorney for final review and adjudication.

“Unfortunately, many elected officials in our local government have stood by silently throughout this entire incident,” writes the NAACP. “The few that have spoken have spent more time defending the actions of the officers, the Chief of police and the town’s reputation instead of taking full responsibility.”

The May 14 letter is addressed to Phillips and Northam, and signed by Isle of Wight NAACP President Valerie Butler and Advocacy Advisor Brandon Randleman. Herring is also copied.

It argues that the community “has lost complete and total confidence in the local government’s handling of this case,” and “due to this distrust, we believe no officials in the local or county government should have any decision-making power in the outcome of the state police investigation.”

“Because of the above reasons The Isle of Wight NAACP and the Windsor Community are asking you, Mrs. Phillips, to recuse yourself from this case and request Governor Northam to authorize Attorney General Herring’s office to review all evidence from the state police investigation and make any and all legal decisions,” the letter states. “Governor Northam, we ask that you hear the pleas of the minority community here in Isle of Wight County.”

Herring’s Office for Civil Rights is already conducting its own investigation to search for any patterns of discriminatory or abusive policing in Windsor over the past 10 years. There’s also a pending federal investigation by the FBI, and last month, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, whose 3rd Congressional District includes Isle of Wight County, asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland about opening a concurrent Department of Justice investigation into the matter.