Biracial Army officer sues Virginia police officers who allegedly threatened him during traffic stop

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A biracial Army medic is suing two Virginia police officers for allegedly engaging in racist conduct during a traffic stop.

Caron Nazario, an active member of the U.S. Army who is black and Latino, is suing Officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker, both of the Windsor Police Department in Virginia. In the April 2 filing with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Nazario alleges the officers violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights during a traffic stop last December. He is seeking $1 million in compensatory damages.

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At approximately 6:34 p.m. on Dec. 5, Crocker initiated a traffic stop as Nazario was driving westbound on U.S. Route 460, ostensibly for the lack of a rear license plate, though the temporary tags were affixed to the back of the vehicle and visible to Crocker during the pursuit, the filing claims. Nazario says he was submitting to Crocker’s authority, but he didn’t see a good place to stop safely in the dark, so he pulled over in a well-lighted BP gas station approximately one minute and 40 seconds after Crocker initiated the stop.

Upon pulling Nazario over, Crocker and Gutierrez, who joined Crocker during the pursuit, “exited their vehicles and immediately trained their firearms on Lt. Nazario and subsequently threatened to murder him,” according to the filing. Nazario, who was recording the encounter on his phone, says he complied with the officers’ orders to roll his window down and show them his hands by placing them outside the window.

As officers approached and asked Nazario to exit his vehicle, videos from Nazario’s cell phone and a police body camera showed Nazario repeatedly asking, “What’s going on?” to which Gutierrez eventually replied Nazario was “fixin’ to ride the lightning,” which Nazario’s lawsuit says is a colloquialism referring to an execution.

“I’m honestly afraid to get out,” Nazario is seen saying on tape, his hands raised.

“Yeah, you should be,” Gutierrez replied.

The footage then showed Gutierrez telling Nazario he was “being detained for obstruction of justice,” at which point he unsuccessfully attempted to remove Nazario from the vehicle with an arm-bar. Gutierrez then sprayed Nazario with pepper spray, which Nazario called “f—ed up,” according to the footage.

Gutierrez was seen advising Nazario to unbuckle his seat belt and exit the vehicle on the videos, after which Nazario asked for the officers to unbuckle him, which they refused to do. Nazario unbuckled his seatbelt, and he was then lowered to the ground, according to the footage.

After the video concluded, Gutierrez administered knee-strikes to Nazario’s legs, and Gutierrez and Crocker continued to strike Nazario, according to the filing.

Nazario says the officers’ actions comport with a broader pattern of racial discrimination from police officers.

“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 alleges.

Several localities throughout the United States are considering police reform measures amid heightened tensions between law enforcement and minority communities. On Saturday, the state of Maryland became the first state to repeal its Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, and the Oregon Legislature is currently considering 10 police reform bills.

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Crocker and Gutierrez still work for the department, town manager William Saunders IV told the Virginian-Pilot. It is unclear when they will appear in court.

Representatives for the Windsor Police Department and Saunders did not immediately respond to the Washington Examiner‘s requests for comment.

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