After Being Held At Gunpoint, Black Army Officer Sues Virginia Police : NPR

Officer Joe Guttierez points his weapon at Lt. Caron Navario. Navario is suing Guttierez and the other officer, Daniel Crocker, for violating his constitutional rights. NPR screenshot / body camera footage of Windsor Police Department hiding caption

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Windsor Police Department NPR screenshot / body camera footage

Officer Joe Guttierez points his weapon at Lt. Caron Navario. Navario is suing Guttierez and the other officer, Daniel Crocker, for violating his constitutional rights.

Windsor Police Department NPR screenshot / body camera footage

When a patrol car activated its siren and emergency lights behind Caron Nazario in December, the army lieutenant said he was not ready to drive up immediately. This stretch of road west of Norfolk, Virginia, was dark and there seemed no safe place to stop.

So Nazario, who is Black and Latino, slowed down, turned on his lights, and stopped – about a mile down the street – at a well-lit BP gas station, according to a federal lawsuit he filed earlier this month. At this point, two officers approached Nazario with guns drawn and yelled at him to get out of the car.

“What’s happening?” Nazario, dressed in uniform, asked repeatedly.

Joe Gutierrez, a Windsor policeman, replied, “What’s going on is that you want to ride the lightning, son.”

Gutierrez and his partner Daniel Crocker are now the defendants in a lawsuit on the grounds that they violated Nazario’s constitutional rights through excessive use of force and illegal searches and seizures.

The complaint alleges that the officers’ behavior “is in line with a disgusting national trend of law enforcement officers who believe they can go with impunity and commit unprofessional, rude, racially biased, dangerous and sometimes fatal abuse of authority”.

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In a report filed the night of the incident, Gutierrez said they treated him as a “high risk traffic stop” because Nazario’s vehicle did not display a label, took a long time to stop, and had “extremely dark” window tint.

In the federal complaint, however, Nazario’s attorney writes that the newly purchased Chevrolet Tahoe had two provisional license plates in its car, which were attached to the rear window and on the passenger side. The complaint alleges that when the officers approached Nazario’s vehicle, they knew of the temporary license plates – and yet continued to halt the high-risk crime.

The officials decided to “draw their guns, illegally arrest Lt. Nazario, murder him and illegally spray him” [pepper spray]and illegally searched his vehicle, “the complaint said.

The death threat, according to the complaint, came from Gutierrez’s comment that Nazario intended to “ride the lightning” – a slang term for execution that refers to death by an electric chair.

In the police report, Gutierrez states that he threatened to use his taser on Nazario. Nazario attorney Jonathan Arthur told NPR that even if Gutierrez intended to use a taser on Nazario when talking about riding the lightning bolt, he said the video “leaves no doubt” that he is too “every word des “meant and intended implicit meaning. “

Several videos – of Nazario’s cell phone and the body cameras worn by Crocker and Gutierrez – captured the interaction from different angles. Nazario once said, “To be honest, I’m scared of getting out.” In response, Gutierrez said, “Yes, you should be.”

Gutierrez sprayed Nazario several times with pepper spray, as the footage shows. Nazario then got out of his vehicle and asked for a supervisor. Gutierrez responded by knocking him to the ground with “knee-kicks,” the suit claims. The officers beat him, handcuffed him, and interrogated him. Paramedics arrived soon after to treat Nazario’s eyes for the pepper spray.

Ultimately, Nazario was fired – but not before officials “threatened Lt. Nazario’s job and his commission in the US Army if he commented on knowing that the criminal charges would harm him,” the complaint read. This attempt to “blackmail” Nazario formed the basis for the complaint’s argument that the officers violated Nazario’s first adjustment rights.

Virginia lawmakers have requested that police officers be investigated immediately. The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said The officials must be “held accountable for their cruel acts”.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called the incident unacceptable. “The Windsor Police Department needs to be completely transparent about what happened during the stop and what was done in response to it.” Said Herring.

Governor Ralph Northam said on Sunday that he has directed the Virginia State Police to conduct an independent investigation into what he describes as “disturbing”.

NPR tried unsuccessfully to solicit comments from Windsor police. An email was not returned and the voicemail was full. It’s unclear whether Gutierrez and Crocker have attorneys to speak on their behalf.


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