Two Virginia police officers have been sued for allegedly drawing their guns on a uniformed Army officer during a traffic stop and spraying him with a substance. One of them has since been terminated.
On Dec. 5, 2020, Windsor police officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker pulled over U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, while he was dressed in uniform, according to the lawsuit filed April 2.
They pulled him over in a newly purchased Chevrolet Tahoe SUV for not having a rear license plate, according to the lawsuit. Nazario was returning home from his duty station at the time, the lawsuit said.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia in Norfolk, claims the officers violated Nazario’s constitutional rights and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Police body camera footage shows the moment officers pursued Nazario, who then pulled over at a well-lit gas station.
According to the report Officer Crocker submitted after the incident, Crocker said the driver was “eluding police” and he considered it to be a high-risk traffic stop.
Nazario wasn’t eluding police, he was trying to stop in a well-lit area for his safety and for the officers’ safety, according to the lawsuit.
Gutierrez acknowledged that Nazario’s decision to drive to a lighted area occurs “a lot … 80% of the time,” and that the maneuver informed him that Nazario was “at least 80% probability, a minority,” the lawsuit claims.
The vehicle was so new Nazario hadn’t yet gotten permanent plates, but had his cardboard temporary plates taped inside the rear window of the vehicle. When officers reached inside his car, that plate was visible in the rear, the lawsuit stated.
In the video footage, officers shout at Nazario to put his arms out of the window and approach him with their guns drawn.
“I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” Nazario is heard saying in the footage.
“Yeah you should be,” one officer replied.
The officers then threaten to arrest him for not listening to their orders to get out of the car and for “obstruction of justice,” the video shows.
“I’m actively serving this country and this is how you’re going to treat me?” Nazario says. Seconds later, an officer appears to spray him in his face with a substance in the video.