Caron Nazario, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, was driving to Petersburg, Virginia, from a drilling weekend on December 5, when he saw police lights flash behind him.
Lieutenant Nazario, made up of Black and Latino, was too nervous to stop on a dark street. He drove about a mile to a gas station, stopped, and put his cell phone on his dashboard. This resulted in a lawsuit and video footage of the encounter.
Two Windsor police officers can be heard immediately yelling at him.
“Get out of the car,” someone shouts when Lieutenant Nazario, who remains seated, repeatedly asks why he was stopped and why the officers pulled their guns. He positions his empty hands in front of the window.
“To be honest, I’m scared of getting out of the car,” says Lieutenant Nazario.
“Yes,” says one of the officers, Joe Gutierrez, according to footage from his body camera. “You should be.”
Seconds later, Officer Gutierrez poured pepper spray over the lieutenant. Lieutenant Nazario’s hands stayed up as he coughed and asked officers to loosen his seat belt and make sure his dog, Smoke, wasn’t choking on the back. Liquid from the spray dripped down his hands and face.
Lieutenant Nazario, 27, a graduate of Virginia State University, filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia earlier this month. It accused the officials of illegally searching his car, using excessive force and violating his rights under the First Amendment. The lawsuit seeks $ 1 million in damages.
Lieutenant Nazario also accused the officers of threatening the destruction of his military career by accusing him of multiple crimes when he complained about their behavior. This is evident from the complaint made this week by The Virginian pilot in Norfolk.
Officer Gutierrez and the other officer named in the lawsuit, Daniel Crocker, did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday. Windsor Police Department chief Rodney Daniel Riddle did not reply to messages.
The police force in Windsor, a rural town of about 2,700 residents about 30 miles west of Norfolk, consists of six members: a chief, a first sergeant, a detective and three officers, according to the town’s website.
The police did not arrest Lieutenant Nazario or bring any charges.
In a report from that night, officials said they ran over Lieutenant Nazario because his SUV had no license plates. Lieutenant Nazario said he recently bought a Chevrolet Tahoe and is waiting for license plates. Temporary ones were taped in the rear window and, according to the lawsuit, were visible.
The police report also said Lieutenant Nazario “deliberately and willfully ignored” and “actively resisted” the police lights and sirens before they stopped when Officer Crocker tried to open the driver’s door of the SUV.
Lieutenant Nazario’s lawyers submitted copies of video footage from his cell phone and police cameras of both officers approaching Lieutenant Nazario’s vehicle with guns drawn at the gas station.
“I am actively serving this country and is this how you will treat me?” he says in the footage.
“What’s happening?” Lieutenant Nazario then asks.
“What’s going on is you want to ride the lightning, son,” yells Officer Gutierrez. (Later, after slapping Lieutenant Nazario behind his knees, the officer told him to lie down or I will berate you as the officers apparently had difficulty getting Lieutenant Nazario to the ground.)
After being sprayed, Lieutenant Nazario began to cry and curse.
After two city ambulance volunteers arrived, Officer Crocker approached Lieutenant Nazario, who was handcuffed near his SUV, and asked why he had not obeyed her “simple” orders.
“What would have been a two-minute traffic obstruction became all of this,” Officer Crocker says in the footage. “I don’t want to hurt you and I know you don’t want to hurt me.”
Lieutenant Nazario said when police stopped him before attempting to pull up in well-lit areas.
“I never looked out the window and immediately saw guns blaze,” he tells Officer Crocker in the video.
Officer Gutierrez later told Lieutenant Nazario that his boss had given him the discretion to let him go as long as the lieutenant did not “fight and argue”.
Officer Gutierrez said he does not need to write a subpoena for obstruction of justice and failure to produce a license plate “if you want to relax and let go”.
If he wrote a subpoena, the army would have to be alerted, Officer Gutierrez told Lieutenant Nazario.
Lieutenant Nazario said he would brief his superiors on what had happened.
“I see,” says Officer Gutierrez. “I understand that the media is spitting out racial relations between law enforcement and minorities.”
Lieutenant Nazario’s attorney Jonathan Arthur said the lieutenant told his superiors about the stop almost immediately.
“He’s still very confused,” said Mr. Arthur. “He’s very, very concerned about retaliation.”