In the latest of a seemingly never-ending stream of cases involving police racism and organizational misbehavior, two police officers in Virginia have been accused of threatening a Black Army lieutenant — and pulling a gun on him — during a routine traffic stop involving vehicle identification.
David K. Li of NBC News has reported that U.S. Army Lt. Caron Nazario was “driving in his newly purchased Chevrolet Tahoe [on Dec. 5, 2020] when he encountered police on U.S. Highway 460 in Windsor. He was in uniform at the time of the stop.”
While Nazario says his new vehicle paperwork was clearly visible in the rear window of his SUV, the officers have claimed they were unable to see any proof of license. Upon spotting the vehicle going down the road, they flashed their lights, requesting that Nazario stop.
Instead of immediately pulling over when he noticed their flashing lights, Nazario — who is Black and Latino — has said that he turned on his emergency lights, slowed down and drove approximately two minutes further up the road so that he could safely pull off the road and park his vehicle in a well-lit gas station parking lot.
“That’s when Windsor police Officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker pulled guns on Nazario, who was accused of driving without license plates, according to the lawsuit and body camera footage,” Li reported. “Nazario insisted he followed police commands to keep his hands outside the window, but officers allegedly became agitated when he asked what justified the escalated pullover.”
As he approached the car, Gutierrez said to Nazario “What’s going on? You’re fixin’ to ride the lighting, son?” The “colloquial expression” references the electric chair and is slang for an execution.
When Nazario told the police he was “honestly afraid to get out” of his SUV, one officer glibly replied, “you should be.”
The entire exchange was captured and documented on the body cam Gutierrez was wearing.
Footage from the body armor also shows Nazario then being pepper-sprayed multiple times for “attempting to resist arrest.”
His lawsuit alleges that the pepper spray caused “substantial and immediate pain” and led to “substantial property damage to Lt. Nazario’s vehicle and choked Lt. Nazario’s dog, who was sitting in the rear of Lt. Nazario’s vehicle, secured in a crate.”
As Nazario obeyed all commands he was given and repeatedly asked what he was being arrested for, “Gutierrez responded with knee-strikes to Lt. Nazario’s legs to force an already compliant and blinded Lt. Nazario down on his face ostensibly to handcuff him,” according to Nazario’s attorney Jonathan Arthur.
“Notwithstanding the fact that Nazario was on the ground and in tears, Gutierrez and Crocker continued to strike Lt. Nazario,” Arthur added.
The lawsuit continues, stating that the officers later “warned Nazario not to complain about their treatment of him, threatening to criminally charge him.”
According to Arthur, as long as the lieutenant decided to “chill and let this go,” the officers told him that no charges would be filed against him.
No charges were ultimately filed against the lieutenant. Although the city of Windsor has yet to issue a statement on the matter, and police have refused to answer questions on the case, neither Gutierrez nor Crocker appeared to have been sanctioned or penalized for their actions as of yet.
On April 11, The Washington Post reported that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is directing Virginia State Police to fully investigate all events surrounding the traffic stop of Nazario, saying the video footage “is disturbing and angered me.”
“Our Commonwealth has done important work on police reform, but we must keep working to ensure Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable,” Northam said in a statement.
My statement on the encounter between Lieutenant Caron Nazario and two officers from the Windsor Police Department: pic.twitter.com/GcfL5YeIRm
— Governor Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) April 11, 2021
According to reporter Rachel Chason, “The federal lawsuit, obtained by The Washington Post, was filed in the Eastern District of Virginia on April 2. Nazario is seeking at least $1 million in damages and for the court to rule that Gutierrez and Crocker violated his constitutional rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment. The lawsuit claims police also threatened to end Nazario’s military career if he spoke out about the incident.”