Virginia town asks to dismiss discriminatory policing case
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A small town in southeastern Virginia has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges its police department has operated in a way that led to discrimination against Black people and violated their constitutional rights.
In a court filing Monday, the town of Windsor called the allegations made in the lawsuit filed by former Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring “erroneous and conclusory.”
Herring filed the lawsuit in December, shortly before leaving office. The court action came after an investigation by Herring’s office that was prompted by a December 2020 traffic stop involving two Windsor police officers and Caron Nazario, an Army lieutenant who is Black and Latino.
Body camera video of the traffic stop showed the officers drawing their guns, pointing them at Nazario and using a slang term to suggest he was facing execution before pepper-spraying him and knocking him to the ground. The video led to widespread outrage when it surfaced months later, when Nazario sued the two officers. Since then, at least one of the officers has been fired.
In a news release issued when he filed the lawsuit, Herring said his investigation showed “that this incident was indicative of much larger problems within the department.” He also said there were “huge disparities in enforcement against African American drivers, and a troubling lack of policies and procedures to prevent discriminatory or unconstitutional policing.”
In their court filing, lawyers for the town said the lawsuit only refers to one person — Caron Nazario — “in a cursory and inconclusive manner.” They also say Herring “has no reasonable grounds to believe that a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers of the town” has deprived people of their rights under state or federal laws.
“The Attorney General’s claims of disproportionate traffic stops of Blacks do not exclude other acts which legitimately cause grounds for traffic and investigatory stops, such as the volume of vehicles travelling through the Town of Windsor, the age of these motorists, and the residency of these motorists,” attorney John Conrad wrote in the filing.
After Herring filed the lawsuit, the town issued a lengthy statement denying the allegations and calling Herring’s decision to file the suit just weeks before he left office “clearly political.”
The town’s statement said the lawsuit cited “questionable data on the quantity and nature of traffic stops and searches,” without providing more specifics. It also said that the town’s police department had taken steps in 2021 to increase training and accountability, steps that had been discussed with Herring’s office several weeks before he filed the suit.
The lawsuit asks the court to enjoin the town and its employees from engaging in discriminatory law enforcement practices and that the town be required to hire an independent monitor to ensure it is complying with state and federal law.
Windsor, with a population of about 3,000, is about 70 miles (110 kilometers) southeast of Richmond. It has a seven-member police force.
Herring, a Democrat, was defeated by Republican Jason Miyares in November. Miyares, who took office on Jan. 15, declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday through a spokesperson.