Va. Officer Who Pepper-Sprayed a Black Army Medic During Traffic Stop Is Fired
A police officer in Windsor, Va., has been fired after a video of him pepper spraying a U.S. Army officer went viral.
Police officers in Virginia held Lieutenant Caron Nazario at gunpoint, handcuffed him and doused him with pepper spray — all during the course of what Nazario alleges in a lawsuit was an illegal traffic stop.
In a statement on Sunday, the town of Windsor, Virginia said that Officer Joe Gutierrez was fired following the December 5 incident. Nazario, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, who is Black and Latino, is suing the town for $1 million in compensatory damages.
In December, Nazario was driving his SUV when Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker attempted to pull him over for having no rear license plate and tinted windows.
The vehicle was new and Nazario didn't have permanent license plates just yet, but had "cardboard temporary plates" on the inside of the rear window, according to Nazario's lawsuit, as cited by CNN.
According to a report Crocker submitted after the incident, which was also included in the court filing, Crocker said the military officer was "eluding police" and he considered it a "high-risk traffic stop."
Another officer, Joe Gutierrez, then joined in on the pursuit after hearing Crocker's call, as Nazario drove his SUV to a gas station. There, according to Nazario's complaint obtained by the AP, the two officers got out of their cars and drew their guns at Nazario.
Footage of the incident obtained by multiple news outlets shows Nazario questioning the officer's actions. "What's going on?" he says in the video taken with his cell phone, before one of the officers questions how many occupants are in the vehicle.
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Then, the officers tell Nazario to open the vehicle door and step out, to which he replies, "I'm not getting out of the vehicle. What's going on?"
As officers approach his vehicle, Nazario is heard saying, "I'm serving this country, and this is how I'm treated?" before Gutierrez responds that he is also a veteran and "learned to obey."
In another moment, Gutierrez is heard telling Nazario he was "fixin' to ride the lightning, son," a slang reference to the electric chair.
"I've not committed any crime," Nazario continues to say in the footage obtained from the incident. "I'm honestly afraid to get out."
"Yeah dude, you should be," one officer replies as he tries to open the door to Nazario's SUV.
After the officers attempt to pull Nazario — who kept his hands raised in the air the whole time — out of his vehicle, one of the officers pepper sprays the army vet four times, according to CNN, which cited Nazario's complaint.
After being pepper-sprayed, and with his eyes closed, Nazario was brought to the ground of the gas station and handcuffed. "Why am I being treated like this? Why?" Nazario asks, to which one of the officers replies, "Because you're not cooperating."
Nazario's lawsuit, filed in US District Court against the city and Gutierrez and Crocker individually, claims unlawful seizure, excessive force, illegal search, violating his First Amendment right to free speech and common law assault, battery and false imprisonment.
Following an internal investigation, the town said that Gutierrez did not follow department policy. They have not provided any further information on the fate of Officer Daniel Crocker, but said the department is requiring additional training.
The Windsor Police Department did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
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