A second lieutenant in the US army is suing two Virginia police officers over a traffic stop last December in which the officers drew their guns, pointed them at him and used a slang term to suggest he was facing execution before pepper-spraying him and knocking him to the ground.
Body camera footage shows Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, dressed in uniform and with his hands held in the air outside the driver’s window as he tells the armed officers he is “honestly afraid to get out” of his SUV.
“Yeah, you should be!” one officer responds during the stop at a gas station.
In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, Nazario says his rights were violated during the stop in the town of Windsor. The two sides dispute what happened after a second police officer joined the first one. Nazario was coming from his duty station and going home, his attorney Jonathan Arthur said.
“Graduated from Virginia State University,” Arthur said. “He was commissioned out of their ROTC program. He’s an officer in the United States armed forces. These guys decide to do this to him.”
Asked about Nazario’s condition, Arthur said: “He’s definitely not doing too well.”
Daniel Crocker, a Windsor police officer, radioed that he was attempting to stop a vehicle with no rear license plate and tinted windows. He said the driver was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop”, according to a report included in the court filing.
Arthur said Nazario explained he wasn’t trying to elude the officer but was trying to stop in a well-lit area “for officer safety and out of respect for the officers”.
Another officer, Joe Gutierrez, was driving by when he heard Crocker’s call, saw him attempting to stop the SUV and decided to join the stop. Gutierrez acknowledged that Nazario’s decision to drive to a lighted area happens to him “a lot, and 80% of the time, it’s a minority”, Arthur said, quoting the officer.
The lawsuit says that by the time the two officers reached Nazario’s SUV, the license plate was visible in the rear.
Nazario drove to a gas station where, according to the lawsuit, the officers drew their guns and pointed them at Nazario. The officers attempted to pull Nazario out of his vehicle while he continued to keep his hands in the air. Gutierrez pepper-sprayed Nazario multiple times.
“I don’t even want to reach for my seatbelt, can you please … My hands are out, can you please – look, this is really messed up,” Nazario stammered, his eyes shut.
The officers shouted conflicting orders, telling him to put his hands out the window while telling him to open the door and get out, the lawsuit says. At one point, Gutierrez told Nazario he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning”, a reference to the electric chair and a line from The Green Mile, a film about a Black man facing execution.
Nazario got out of the vehicle and asked for a supervisor. Gutierrez responded with “knee-strikes”, knocking him to the ground, the lawsuit says. The two officers struck Nazario multiple times, then handcuffed and interrogated him. The stop was captured on Nazario’s cellphone and cameras worn by Crocker and Gutierrez, according to the lawsuit.
“These cameras captured footage of behavior consistent with a disgusting nationwide trend of law enforcement officers who, believing they can operate with complete impunity, engage in unprofessional, discourteous, racially biased, dangerous and sometimes deadly abuses of authority,” the lawsuit says.
The Windsor police did not immediately comment. No one answered the phone at a number listed for Crocker. He and Gutierrez still work for the department, the town manager told the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk. Windsor is about 70 miles south-east of Richmond, the state capital.