Black Army lieutenant who filed $1M police brutality lawsuit awarded just $3,685

Francis Akhalbey January 19, 2023
Virginia police officers pepper-sprayed 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario during a traffic stop -- Image via Windsor Police

A Black U.S. Army lieutenant, who filed a $1 million police brutality lawsuit against two Virginia police officers who pepper-sprayed and struck him during a traffic stop in 2020, has been awarded $3,685 by a jury.

As previously reported by Face2Face Africa, the incident occurred when 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario was pulled over as he was driving home from work in his new Chevy Tahoe vehicle. Nazario accused officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker of pointing their guns at him before pepper-spraying and striking him after he was pulled over.

Nazario, in the lawsuit against the officers, made claims of assault, battery, false imprisonment and illegal search, ABC News reported. But the jury ordered Gutierrez to pay $2,685 in damages after he was found liable for assault. He was cleared of the other charges. Crocker, on the other hand, was ordered to pay $1,000 in damages after he was found liable for illegally searching Nazario’s vehicle. It was also determined he wasn’t liable for the other charges.

Responding to the verdicts, Tom Roberts, who is Nazario’s lawyer, said it was a “sad day”, adding that the decision by the court does not give notification to other police officers that “this conduct is unacceptable.”

“It is open season on citizens in Virginia and across the county,” a statement from Roberts said. “Citizens will not rest assured that scenes like this are not repeated with impunity.”

Per the lawsuit, the December 2020 incident occurred after the Black U.S. Army lieutenant was flagged to pull over for allegedly driving with a dark window tint and without a rear license plate, Vice reported. As he had just recently purchased the SUV, the lawsuit reportedly stated Nazario was using temporary tags as he was yet to obtain a permanent one. Nazario also displayed the temporary plate inside the rear windscreen of the SUV. The traffic stop was also captured on police body camera footage, and the video reportedly showed the tags were visible. 

In the footage, Nazario could be heard asking the officers what the issue was on several occasions when he was ordered to step out of the vehicle. And despite informing them he was scared of exiting the car, one of the officers could be heard telling him, “Yeah, you should be.”

After Nazario was initially flagged to stop, he decided to drive a bit further and park at a well-lit nearby BP gas station. That took around a minute and 40 seconds after Crocker had ordered him to stop, according to the lawsuit. Because the plaintiff did not immediately pull over, the officers, in a report, alleged he was “eluding police” and as such, handled the incident as a “felony traffic stop” – meaning they deemed it risky, Vice reported. The lawsuit, however, stated that one of the officers admitted he knew why Nazario decided to drive to the gas station as it was a tactic people of color frequently used during traffic stops.

Footage of the incident showed the officers ordering Nazario to put his hands up and step out of the vehicle among other instructions when he parked at the gas station. During the confrontation, Nazario was also heard asking the officers what was going on. The lawsuit reportedly alleged the officers were not “willing or able to articulate why they had initiated the traffic stop.” And after Nazario failed to exit the vehicle after he was ordered to do so, Gutierrez told the army officer he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning.”

“This is a colloquial expression for an execution, originating from glib reference to execution by the electric chair,” the lawsuit reportedly stated. Things quickly escalated and besides allegedly threatening Nazario, the officers also pepper-sprayed him and struck him in his legs with their knees after he exited the vehicle. The incident left the army officer in tears and in need of medical attention. The lawsuit also stated that Nazario’s vehicle was searched “without permission or authority.” After Crocker found a firearm in the vehicle, he allegedly “radioed the serial number back to dispatch to see if the firearm was stolen.”

During interrogation at the scene of the arrest, the lawsuit alleged the officers gave Nazario an ultimatum. The officers allegedly told him they would allow him to walk away free without charging him if he would “chill and let this go” or slap him with charges that could jeopardize his military career if he did not cooperate. He was eventually released without charges.

In the wake of the incident, the Windsor Police Department terminated Gutierrez in 2021 after it determined he did not follow department policy.

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