2nd Lt. Caron Nazario claims he was pulled over and pepper-sprayed for driving without plates–even though his vehicle was new enough to not need a permanent set.
A mixed-race Army officer has filed a lawsuit against two Virginia police officers, who he claims brutalized him during a routine traffic stop.
According to CNN, the complaint was filed by 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino. He is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages against both officers, saying they violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights.
The two officers have been identified as Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker.
The encounter, says CNN, was captured by several cameras, including the officers’ body cameras.
Nazario, notes CNN, was stopped for a missing license plate. When Gutierrez and Crocker tried to initiate the stop, Nazario allegedly continued driving.
Nazario later said that he was simply trying to find a place that would be safe to pull over. But Gutierrez and Crocker said Nazario’s apparent reluctance to slow down led them to consider the encounter a “high-risk” traffic stop.
However, Nazario did eventually stop—and Gutierrez himself later said that many motorists will drive short distances to provide themselves and officers with an additional measure of safety.
When Nazario’s vehicle halted and the two Windsor officers began approaching his vehicle, they already had their service firearms drawn—prompting Nazario to react with fear.
“I’m honestly afraid to get out,” Nazario can be heard saying.
“Yeah,” Gutierrez replied, “you should be.”
The officers then continued to pressure Nazario out of the car.
“I’m actively serving this country and this is how you’re going to treat me?” asked Nazario, who was in uniform. Moments later, says CNN, the officers appear to fire pepper spray in his face.
The whole time, Nazario kept his hands in the air, saying he was not physically capable of complying with the officers’ order—and remained afraid that they might misinterpret his actions and open fire.
“I don’t even want to reach for my seatbelt, can you please…?” Nazario said. “My hands are out, can you please—look , this is really messed up.”
In his lawsuit, Nazario and his attorneys note that the two officers employed excessive force, despite having no reason to believe that the lieutenant had even committed a crime. Nazario had, in fact, been driving a brand-new vehicle—still close enough to its date of purchase to not need permanent plates.
At several points in the officers’ body-cam video, the temporary, cardboard plate Nazario had affixed to the rear window is visible.
“These cameras captured footage of behavior consistent with a disgusting nationwide trend of law enforcement officers, who, believing they can operate with complete impunity, engage in unprofessional, discourteous, racially biased, dangerous and sometimes deadly abuses of authority,” the lawsuit says.
Ironically, Gutierrez’s police report indicates that he chose to let Nazario go without charges because he didn’t want to hurt Nazario’s military career.
“I made the decision to release him without any charges,” Nazario wrote. “The reason for this decision is simple; the military is the only place where double jeopardy applies. Meaning that whatever happened in civil court, the military could still take action against him. Being a military veteran, I did not want to see his career ruined over one erroneous decision.”