A U.S. army officer has launched a lawsuit against two police officers from the state of Virginia, for using excessive force on him at a traffic stop, CNN reported.
The incident happened on Dec. 5, 2020, at the town of Windsor.
The two policemen, Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, pulled over Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario, who is of mixed African-American and Latino descent, on what they believed was a missing license plate for his newly-purchased SUV.
The Guardian reported that Crocker also radioed that he was attempting to stop a vehicle with tinted windows, and that the driver was "eluding police", which made the traffic stop high-risk.
However, Nazario's lawyer, Jonathan Arthur, has said that his client was not eluding the officers but attempting to stop in a well-lighted area for "officer safety and out of respect for the officers."
Asked to step out of car at gunpoint and pepper-sprayed
According to body camera footage of the incident, taken from the police officers' point of view, both of the policemen can be seen training their guns on Nazario's vehicle while demanding that he step out of the car.
When Nazario points that out he is "serving this country" and asked if this is how those who serve are treated?" one of the officers, Joe Gutierrez replies:
"Yo what, guess what, I'm a veteran too and I learned how to obey. Get out of the car."
Gutierrez can also be heard telling Nazario that he is "fixin' to ride the lightning, son," — a colloquial expression for execution by electric chair, according to the lawsuit filed by Nazario.
At one point, Nazario can be heard saying, "I'm honestly afraid to get out," to which Gutierrez replies, "Yeah, you should be."
When Nazario adds that he has not committed any crime, Gutierrez can be heard answering:
"You're being stopped for a traffic violation, you're not cooperating at this point right now, you're under arrest, you're being detained for the obstruction of justice!"
Nazario is then pepper-sprayed by Gutierrez four times, once the army officer points out again that he is "actively serving the country".
Afterwards, he is pushed towards the ground by the officers, upon stepping out his car, and handcuffed.
Throughout this time, Nazario can be heard crying "This is f****d up."
This draws Gutierrez's reply, "I agree, all you gotta do is listen."
[Warning: Video contains images that some viewers may find disturbing]
Paramedics arrive on scene, officers release Nazario without charge
CNN further reported that the police's tone changed once paramedics arrived on the scene to treat Nazario, who was ultimately released without charges.
Gutierrez can be heard telling Nazario that he understood the lieutenant chose to continue driving to stop at a gas station for safety reasons, and that such things "happens all the time" and with 80 per cent of such incidents involving a minority.
Gutierrez also informed Nazario that after speaking with the police chief, the army officer faced the following two options:
- Either wait with him until he can drive home to continue "serving my country", without charges, or
- "Push the issue" by writing him a ticket for a lack of a license plate and charge him with obstruction of justice.
This brought up Gutierrez's following statement:
"There's no need getting this on your record. If you want to fight it and argue ... if that's what you want, we'll charge you, have you go to court, notify the commander, do all that."
Gutierrez subsequently wrote in his report that he chose to let Nazario go on the grounds that he knew the military could punish the lieutenant.
The police officer added, "Being a military veteran I did not want to see his career ruined over one erroneous decision."
Nazario's lawyer: Client was in fear for his life
Meanwhile, Arthur said that Nazario was afraid of taking his hands out of the policemen's view, CBS News reported.
Arthur added, "To unbuckle his seatbelt, to do anything, any misstep — he was afraid that they were going to kill him."
As such, the lawsuit was filed by his client on the grounds of needing "to stop this conduct", holding the two policemen accountable and making sure they are unable to engage in such behaviour again.
Virginia police: Gutierrez has been fired over use of pepper spray
On Apr. 11, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police & Foundation put up a statement in which the town of Windsor said that it acknowledged the events of Dec. 5, 2020.
The statement noted that pepper spray had been used against Nazario, and added that it had investigated the "appropriateness of such an action."
In finding out that the Windsor Police Department's policy had not been followed during the incident, disciplinary action was carried out, resulting in Gutierrez being terminated from his employment.
In addition, further "department-wide" training has been implemented since Jan. 2021, and continues up to the present.
The town has also pledged to further investigate the incident with Virginia State police and highlighted that it has been open in providing documents and related video footage to lawyers for Nazario.
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