Police officer fired for pepper-spraying Black army officer in ‘horrifying’ traffic stop captured on film

Army lieutenant has filed a federal lawsuit against two officers

Shweta Sharma
Monday 12 April 2021 07:47
Black Army lieutenant pepper-sprayed by Virginia police officer

A Virginia police officer who pepper-sprayed and threatened to murder a Black and Latino second lieutenant in the US army was fired following an investigation into the “horrifying” traffic stop incident of December 2020.

Windsor police officer Joe Gutierrez was terminated from service after an internal investigation concluded that the police department’s “policy was not followed” and pepper spray was used against Lieutenant Caron Nazario, officials of Windsor, Virginia, said in a statement.

Lieutenant Nazario filed a federal lawsuit on 2 April, seeking $1m in damages and for the court to rule that both officers violated the constitution. The lawsuit claimed that during the traffic stop, the officers “threatened to murder him” and end his military career if he went public about the incident.

On 5 December, 2020, Lt Nazario, who was still dressed in his uniform at the time, was stopped by two officers on US Highway 460 in Windsor.

The incident captured on bodycam footage showed officer Gutierrez and another officer Daniel Crocker pointing guns at Lt Nazario while asking him to get down. During the incident, Lt Nazario said he was afraid to get out of his car and the officer responded: “Yeah you should be.”

The lieutenant was pepper strayed while he was still in his car with his hands up, forced to kneel down and struck by the officer.

The video went viral on Twitter with his name trending as people expressed fury at the incident.

Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam directed state police to investigate the traffic stop incident, saying it disturbed and angered him.

“Our Commonwealth has done important work on police reform, but we must keep working to ensure Virginians are safe during interactions with police, the enforcement of laws is fair and equitable, and people are held accountable,” Mr Northam, a Democrat, said.

Lt Nazario was initially pulled over by officers because he did not have a permanent rear licence plate.

The lawsuit said that an officer radioed to dispatch that the driver of a black SUV was without a tag, “eluding police” and it was a “high-risk stop”. Mr Nazario made a stop at a gas station in less than two minutes after being signalled by the officers.

Virginia congressman Bobby Scott, whose constituency for the House of Representatives includes Windsor, said he was “horrified” to watch the video and it should have been a “routine” stop. He also demanded police reforms.

“I was horrified when I viewed the recently released video footage of the police treatment of Caron Nazario, a second lieutenant in the US Army,” he said. “This should have been a routine traffic stop and the video speaks for itself.”

Mr Scott said the video comes as the Hampton Roads community is still mourning the loss of Donovan Lynch, who was killed by officers whose body cameras were turned off.

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