Black Army officer held at gunpoint, pepper sprayed by police, lawsuit alleges

'These cameras captured footage of behavior consistent with a disgusting nationwide trend of law enforcement.'

Two Virgina cops are being sued by a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army after they assaulted and threatened him during a traffic stop last December. 

Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, filed the lawsuit Friday in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia in Norfolk. The suit claims officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker violated his civil rights when they pulled him over in his newly-bought Chevrolet Tahoe SUV for having tinted windows and no rear license plate. 

When the officers signaled for him to pull over on Dec. 5, Nazario reportedly complied by activating the turn signal and driving less than a mile away to a well-lit BP gas station on the opposite side of the highway, per Suffolk News-Herald. Officer Crocker radioed that he was attempting to stop a vehicle but claimed the driver was “eluding police” which he considered a “high-risk traffic stop,” according to his own report that is included in the lawsuit.

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Body camera footage shows the officers approach the vehicle with their guns pointed. They give Nazario, who is dressed in uniform, opposing instructions but he expresses his fear over exiting the car. The officers threatened him with execution for noncompliance before attempting to pull Nazario out of the SUV.

Nazario repeatedly asks the officers “What’s going on?” Officer Gutierrez  replies, “What’s going on? You’re fixin’ to ride the lightning, son.”

“This is a colloquial expression for an execution, originating from glib reference to execution by the electric chair,” the lawsuit states.

When Nazario says he’s “honestly afraid” to exit the vehicle, Gutierrez’s body cam records him replying, “Yeah, you should be.”

“I don’t even want to reach for my seatbelt, can you please? … My hands are out, can you please — look, this is really messed up,” Nazario tells the cops

As shown on his body cam Gutierrez tells Nazario “you’re under arrest … you’re being detained for obstruction of justice.” The officers then pepper-spray him. In Crocker’s account of what happened next, he claimed Nazario slapped his hand away when he attempted to unlock the driver’s side door. Once Nazario stepped out of the vehicle he struggled with the officers and resisted arrest.

The suit, however, claims Nazario kept his hands up in the air and out of the vehicle during his entire encounter with the police and “at no time does Lt. Nazario touch or smack either Gutierrez or Crocker during this interaction.”

When Nazario asks for a supervisor, the officers physically assault him, knock him to the ground and handcuff him, the lawsuit states.

“I can think of absolutely no reason under the sun as to why those officers should have exited their vehicles with their firearms trained on my client or any other,” explained lawyer Jonathan Arthur. The suit notes that by the time the two officers reached the SUV, the license plate was visible in the rear.

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“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.

Nazario decided to take legal action because his constitutional rights were violated.

“Everyone has heard, I believe, in the doctrine of qualified immunity that protects law enforcement if they don’t violate clearly established laws,” Arthur told 13News. “In this case, we believe that both the United States Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit, and the Virginia Supreme Court have all said that this type of behavior is completely inappropriate.”

Arthur added “My client didn’t do anything wrong.”

At the time of the encounter with police, Nazario was going home after coming from his duty station. 

“Graduated from Virginia State University. He was commissioned out of their ROTC program. He’s an officer in the United States armed forces,” Arthur said. “These guys decide to do this to him.”

Since the incident, Arthur said Nazario is “definitely not doing too well.”

Crocker and Gutierrez, meanwhile, reportedly still work for the department.

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