Trial Begins For Virginia Cops Sued By Black Army Officer Over Violent Traffic Stop

ABC News video screengrab.

A federal trial began on Monday for a US Army officer who sued Virginia police officers after he was pepper sprayed, struck and pushed to the ground during a traffic stop in 2020, CNN reports

A jury began hearing the case involving 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, in a federal court in Richmond on Monday morning, according to court records.

Nazario claims in his lawsuit that his car was illegally searched and that he was wrongfully stopped. He says that the Windsor, Virginia, police officers violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights and is asking for $1 million in compensatory damages.

After the video of the altercation from December 2020 was made public, Nazario filed a lawsuit in 2021. According to the lawsuit, on December 5, 2020, Nazario, who was dressed in his Army uniform, was driving a brand-new Chevrolet Tahoe with “cardboard temporary plates” taped to the inside of the rear window when he was stopped. 

Due to the license plates and the car’s “dark tinted windows,” officers Joe Gutierrez and Daniel Crocker stopped him, according to police reports.

Nazario held his hands in the air and repeatedly asked, “Why am I being stopped?” according to body camera footage of the incident. The officers can be seen in the video approaching the SUV and aiming their weapons at it.

“I’m honestly afraid to get out,” Nazario said to the officers after they ordered him to get out of the car.

According to the lawsuit, Nazario remained in the SUV while one of the officers pepper-sprayed him through the open window. Officers then wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him when he got out of the car. Nazario was released, and no charges were filed against him.

On Tuesday, Nazario’s partner testified that since the incident, the army officer “suffers from anxiety, is prone to panic attacks, and has frequent nightmares,” WVEC, a local ABC affiliate, reports.

Gutierrez was fired in 2021 after an investigation into the use of force was launched. However, Crocker remains on the police force. 

Last year, Special Prosecutor and Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell decided not to charge the officers in state court. He has referred the case to the US Attorney’s Office to begin a federal civil rights investigation.

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