U.S. Army Medical Corps Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario, 27, was driving home from a drill weekend on December 5 in his newly purchased 2020 Chevy Tahoe near Windsor, Virginia. Nazario, of Latino and African American descent, did not yet have permanent plates for the SUV from the DMV, but had taped temporary cardboard plates to the top inside the rear window and the passenger side.
As Nazario headed westbound on U.S. 460, a Windsor Police Department officer initiated the traffic stop by activating the police car’s emergency lights. A second Windsor police car joined in pursuing Nazario. The army officer began slowing down immediately and looked for a safe place to stop in this dark area. He drove slowly for less than a mile and just over 1 minute before turning into a well-lit BP gas station.
Prior to the actual stopping, the police officers reported the traffic stop as “high-risk” and a felony traffic stop, although the stop actually involved the lack of a rear license plate and dark-tinted windows. When they confronted Nazario in the gas station parking lot, the officers immediately drew their guns and threatened to kill him. That was just the beginning.
A federal lawsuit filed April 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division, alleges Windsor police officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker violated Nazario’s constitutional rights, used excessive force, and illegally searched his vehicle. The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages. It also alleges the officers threatened to end Nazario’s military career if he reported them.
The lawsuit notes the taped-on temporary license plate is clearly visible in videos of the stop.
Fixin to Ride the Lightning
Nazario, in uniform, repeatedly asked the officers what was going on. Gutierrez replied that Nazario was “fixin to ride the lightning,” a slang term for dying in the electric chair. At that point, Gutierrez is seen unfastening Velcro around what may have been his Taser.
As he was held at gunpoint, with his hands up, Nazario told the police that he was honestly afraid to get out of his car, to which Gutierrez responded, “Yeah, you should be.”
Pepper Spray Attack
After the remark about being afraid to leave the car, Gutierrez began pepper-spraying Nazario. During the attack, he told the police he wanted the name of their supervisor. He began coughing and asked for help getting out of his seatbelt. He also asked the officers to make sure his dog, crated in the back of the car, was not choking from the pepper spray.
Instead, Gutierrez knocked him down, both officers beat him, and he was then handcuffed. After an interrogation, they let Nazario go. Before doing so, they warned him they would ruin his career if he reported their actions by charging him with multiple crimes.
Three video cameras captured the incident from various angles. That includes Nazario’s cellphone footage and the body cams of both police officers.
Governor Orders Investigation
Governor Ralph Northam has ordered an investigation of the traffic stop incident by the Virginia State Police. Gutierrez has been fired from his job after an internal investigation by his department due to the use of force. Crocker is still currently employed by the Windsor Police Department.