A second lieutenant in the U.S. Army is suing two Virginia police officers over a traffic stop last year during which the officers drew their guns, pointed them at him and used a slang term to suggest he was facing execution before pepper-spraying him and knocking him to the ground, The Associated Press reports.
Caron Nazario, was driving home from work, in full uniform, in his new SUV through Windsor, Virginia last December when he saw a police cruiser signal for him to pull over.
He saw a BP gas station less than a mile ahead and decided to drive into the parking area and stopped, the lawsuit said.
Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker had radioed that he was attempting to stop a vehicle with no rear license plate and tinted windows. He said the driver was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop,” according to a report he submitted afterward and which was included in the court filing.
Nazario’s attorney Jonathan Arthur told The Associated Press that his client wasn’t trying to elude the officer, but was trying to stop in a well-lit area “for officer safety and out of respect for the officers.”
Another officer, Joe Gutierrez, was driving by when he heard Crocker’s call, saw him attempting to stop the SUV and decided to join the traffic stop. Gutierrez admitted that Nazario’s decision to drive to a lighted area happens to him “a lot, and 80% of the time, it’s a minority,” Arthur said.
The lawsuit says by the time the two officers reached Nazario’s SUV, the license plate was visible in the rear.
Police body cam footage shows Nazario in uniform, parked with his hands held in the air outside the driver’s window when the two police officers approached the car, pointed their guns at him and demanded that he get out of the vehicle.
He repeatedly asked what was going on and at one point admitted to the officers pointing their guns at him that he was “honestly afraid to get out.”
“Yeah, you should be,” one of the officers responded.
The officers then attempted to pull Nazario out of the vehicle while he continued to keep his hands in the air. Gutierrez then stepped back and pepper-sprayed Nazario multiple times as officers yelled for him to get out of the car.
Nazario got out of the vehicle and asked for a supervisor. Gutierrez responded with “knee-strikes” to his legs, knocking him to the ground, the lawsuit says. The two officers struck him multiple times, then handcuffed him on the ground as he kept saying, “this is fucked up, this is fucked up.”
The lawsuit says, the officers “realized that they had acted illegally,” and told Nazario that if he “would chill and let this go,” they would release him without filing any charges. But if he fought it, they would have “to go to court and notify his command.”
Later, the officers wrote in their report that Nazario refused to show his hands and slapped theirs away when they tried to get him out. Officer Gutierrez wrote that he gave knee strikes to Nazario’s legs because he wouldn’t get on the ground and resisted arrest, and that he felt he could either charged Nazario with obstruction, eluding, and assaulting an officer, or release him without any charges.
“I made the decision to release him without any charges,” his report said, according to the Virginian Pilot. “The reason for this decision is simple; the military is the only place where double jeopardy applies. Meaning that whatever happened in civil court, the military could still take action against him. Being a military veteran, I did not want to see his career ruined over one erroneous decision.”
Crocker’s report also states that he chose not to file any charges because Nazario was active duty military, up for promotion, and the officer didn’t want to see his career ruined for “poor judgment.”
“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 says, according to AP.
The incident was also captured on Nazario’s cellphone. At one point he was heard asking the officers “I’m serving this country, and this is how I’m treated?”