Trial Set for Black Soldier Who Sued Police for Violent Arrest

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A US Army lieutenant who was pepper-sprayed, beaten and handcuffed by police in rural Virginia but never arrested will argue before a jury that he was assaulted and falsely imprisoned and that his vehicle was illegally searched.

Video of the 2020 traffic stop garnered millions of views the following year after Caron Nazario filed the now-hearing federal lawsuit, highlighting fears of mistreatment among black drivers and intensifying scrutiny of the boundaries of police conduct. reasonable and lawful.

The episode it also served as a grim sign for many African Americans that military uniforms do not necessarily protect against abuse of authority by law enforcement.

The trial is scheduled to begin Monday in federal court in Richmond.

The video shows Windsor police officers Daniel Crocker and Joe Gutierrez pointing handguns at a uniformed Nazario behind the wheel of his Chevy Tahoe at a gas station. Officers repeatedly ordered Nazario to get out of his truck, and Gutierrez warned at one point that Nazario was “preparing to ride the lightning” when he didn’t get out.

Nazario held his hands in the air outside the driver’s side window and continually asked why he was being pulled over.

Nazario also said: «Honestly I’m afraid to go out.»

“You should be,” Gutierrez responded.

Nazario stayed in the vehicle. Gutierrez went on to pepper spray him through the open window. Once Nazario got out of the truck, the officers ordered him to the ground and Gutierrez used his knees to hit Nazario’s legs, according to the lawsuit.

Since the traffic stop, Nazario has developed anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to her lawsuit. He has been unable to leave the home at times due to «hypervigilance regarding the potential for harassment by law enforcement,» according to court documents.

A psychologist found that Nazario, who is Black and Latino, suffers from race-based trauma associated with violent encounters with police, which can exacerbate injuries «in ways not commonly seen in white populations.»

“The officers involved not only assaulted Mr. Nazario, but also pointed their weapons directly at him and, at some point during the encounter, threatened to kill him,” the lawsuit alleges. «Sir. Nazario remembers that he thought he was going to die that night.»

Nazario is suing Crocker and Gutierrez. Crocker is still on the force, but Gutierrez was fired in April 2021, the same month Nazario sued him.

The men deny ever threatening to kill Nazario. They maintain that Nazario misinterpreted Gutiérrez’s statement that Nazario was «preparing to ride the lightning.» Gutierrez spoke those words as he holstered his gun and drew the Taser from him and was referring to his stun gun, not an execution, according to court documents.

Crocker and Gutierrez argue that they carried out their duties within the law after Nazario failed to stop immediately and refused to get out of his vehicle. In addition, a federal judge has already determined that they had probable cause to detain Nazario for an improperly displayed license plate and charge him with eluding police, as well as obstruction of justice and disobedience.

“To the extent that Mr. Nazario alleges mental anguish or other psychological injuries, Mr. Nazario is still in the Virginia National Guard; there is no evidence that he was medically removed or otherwise discharged in connection with this incident,” according to a trial brief. presented by Gutiérrez at the end of November. “In fact, shortly after the traffic stop, Mr. Nazario traveled to Washington, DC in support of the January 6, 2021 riots.”

Nazario, a medical officer, said he arrived after the insurrection occurred, according to a statement.

In addition to Nazario’s lawsuit, the fallout from the traffic stop includes a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general alleging that Windsor discriminated against African-Americans. The small town is about 70 miles (110 kilometers) southeast of Richmond.

Image: Army Official Caron Nazario
Police detain Lt. Caron Nazario in Windsor, Virginia on December 5, 2020.windsor police

In August, a special prosecutor determined that Gutiérrez should not be criminally charged, but should be investigated for possible civil rights violations.

«Although I find the video very disturbing and frankly disturbing, Gutierrez’s use of force to remove Nazario did not violate state law, as he had given Nazario multiple orders to get out of the vehicle,» the special prosecutor said. Anton Bell in his report.

US District Judge Roderick C. Young also narrowed the scope of Nazario’s lawsuit. In August, Young ruled that federal immunity laws protect Crocker and Gutierrez from Nazario’s claims that they violated his constitutional protections against excessive force and unreasonable seizure, as well as Nazario’s right to free speech by threatening him with arrest him if he complained about his behavior.

Nazario can bring claims under state false imprisonment and assault and battery law before a jury, the judge ruled. The judge also found Crocker liable for illegally searching Nazario’s truck for a weapon, leaving the question of damages at that point to a jury. Nazario had a concealed carry permit.

The jury will also consider whether Gutierrez is responsible for the illegal search. The former officer denies that he knew Crocker was conducting the search.

Nazario’s lawyers are expected to present evidence about Gutierrez’s professional record, including an unrelated suspension without pay for excessive force.

That episode occurred during a traffic stop in 2019 while Gutierrez was serving as a deputy sheriff in Isle of Wight County. Gutierrez pointed his gun at the driver during both times the man got out of his vehicle and held him at gunpoint for nearly four minutes until another officer arrived, according to court documents.

While attempting to handcuff the man, Gutierrez grabbed him by the neck and «forced his face into the pavement while trying to turn him face down,» according to the findings. The man suffered a facial injury that required medical attention.

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