A New Law Gave Virginia’s Attorney General the Authority to Investigate Windsor Police
With state and federal investigations into the Windsor Police Department’s handling of a December traffic stop underway, Attorney General Mark Herring is using his authority under a new state lawto probe the department’s policies and training.
Last summer, during a special session of the General Assembly that largely dealt with criminal justice reform, legislators voted to empower the Attorney General of Virginia to conduct “pattern and practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies.
The law, which took effect March 1, allows the Attorney General to investigate police departments and identify and stop unconstitutional policing. That could include officers using excessive force, illegal searches, and biased policing. Virginia is one of the first states in the country to give a state attorney general this power.
But Herring doesn’t have the authority to investigate a specific incident, like the traffic stop of 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario. He’s seen in a widely shared-video being threatened at gunpoint, pepper-sprayed and knocked to the ground by Windsor police officers. Herring has demanded the department turn over personnel records and other documents demonstrating its training and policies.
“If there is a broader pattern of unconstitutional policing or misconduct, then it means we have more work to do to make sure that this never happens again,” Herring said in an interview with VPM on Thursday. “Because what we all saw in that video was dangerous, appalling, and unacceptable. And it has to stop.”
The law allows the Attorney General to negotiate agreements with departments under investigation that can be enforced in court. The agreements are akin to federal consent decrees enforced by the Department of Justice that mandate changes in policies and practices in local police departments. Herring says the law also goes a step further.
“If the department is unwilling, we can go into court and ask the court to order it even without the consent of the department,” he said.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Windsor Police Chief Rodney Riddle said he welcomes Herring’s inquiries, as well as those of the FBI and Virginia State Police.
“I invite it,” Riddle said. “There's nothing there. There's nothing there for them to find. This is a small seven-man police department. We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week covering this community. These officers love the folks here. We love this community.”
Riddle called the department a “train wreck” before he took the helm in 2015.
“In a seven-man police department, we have no administrative staff. I don't have any secretaries to answer phones. I don't have anybody to return emails to. I'm the HR manager. The payroll guy. I handle it all,” Riddle said. “I've worked very diligently to continue to build the reputation of the police department to professionalize it,” he said. “I take pride in that.”
Riddle said the staff gets “behind” on policies and paperwork, and he hopes the investigation ends in funding and resources for better training for his officers.
The State Police investigation will be turned over to the Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney.