Virginia cop accused of pepper-spraying Army officer fired

'We are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light,' Windsor officials said of the Caron Nazario incident.

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Joe Gutierrez, one of the Virginia police officers accused of pepper-spraying a Black Army officer during a December traffic stop, has been fired after the governor called for an independent investigation into the disturbing incident captured on camera. 

Gutierrez and Officer Daniel Crocker are accused of pointing their guns at U.S. Army Second Lieutenant Caron Nazario and using slang to suggest he would be executed for failing to comply with their commands.

Army Second Lt. Caron Nazario (right) is shown during the traffic stop that led to his lawsuit against Windsor officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker.

As theGRIO previously reported, Nazario, who is Black and Latino, has filed a lawsuit against Gutierrez and Crocker, claiming the Windsor officers 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 in place. A temporary license plate was visible in his rear window.

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

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 included in the lawsuit.

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 then threaten Nazario with execution for noncompliance before attempting to pull him out of the SUV.

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, they reportedly 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.

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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. Video of the incident went viral, prompting elected city officials, including Gov. Ralph Northam, to request an investigation by Virginia State Police into the encounter.

In the statement Sunday, Windsor officials said an internal investigation determined that department policy wasn’t followed during Nazario’s arrest, and Gutierrez was fired over his excessive use of force, NBC News reports.

“The Town of Windsor prides itself in its small-town charm and the community-wide respect of its Police Department,” the statement said. “Due to this, we are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light. Rather than deflect criticism, we have addressed these matters with our personnel administratively, we are reaching out to community stakeholders to engage in dialogue, and commit ourselves to additional discussions in the future.”

Northam called the Nazario incident “disturbing” in a tweet Sunday, noting that he asked State Police to review the case. 

“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,” Northam said in his statement calling for a review of the actions.

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