A U.S. Army lieutenant who was pepper sprayed, struck and handcuffed by police in rural Virginia, but never arrested, will argue to a jury that he was assaulted and falsely imprisoned and that his vehicle was illegally searched.
Video of the 2020 traffic stop got millions of views the next year after Caron Nazario filed the federal lawsuit that is now being heard, highlighting fears of mistreatment among Black drivers and intensifying the scrutiny of the boundaries of reasonable, and legal, police conduct.
The episode also served as a grim signal to many Black Americans that military uniforms don’t necessarily protect against abuse of authority by law enforcement.
The trial is scheduled to begin Monday in federal court in Richmond.
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. The officers repeatedly commanded Nazario to exit his SUV, with Gutierrez warning at one point that Nazario was “fixing 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 stopped.
Nazario also said: “I’m honestly afraid to get out.”
“You should be,” Gutierrez responded.
Nazario stayed in the vehicle. Gutierrez went on to pepper spray him through the open window. Once Nazario exited the SUV, the officers commanded him to get on the ground, with Gutierrez using his knees to strike Nazario’s legs, the lawsuit states.
Since the traffic stop, Nazario has developed anxiety, depression and PTSD, according to his lawsuit. He has been unable to leave home at times due to “hypervigilance regarding the potential for harassment by law enforcement,” court filings state.
A psychologist found that Nazario, who is Black and Latino, suffers from race-based trauma associated with violent police encounters, which can exacerbate injuries “in ways that do not commonly affect the white populations.”
“The officers involved not only assaulted Mr. Nazario, but pointed their weapons directly at him and, at some point during the encounter, threatened to kill him,” the suit alleges. “Mr. Nazario recalls that he thought he was going to die that evening.”