Lawsuit: Virginia police officers threatened man during stop

NORFOLK, Va. — A second lieutenant in the U.S. Army is suing two Virginia police officers over a traffic stop during which the officers drew their guns, pointed them at him and used a slang term to suggest he was facing execution.

Body camera footage shows Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was dressed in uniform with his hands held in the air outside the driver’s side window as he told the armed officers, “I’m honestly afraid to get out.”

“Yeah, you should be!” one of the officers responded during the stop at a gas station.

Nazario says his constitutional rights were violated by the traffic stop in the town of Windsor in December. The two sides in the case are disputing what happened after a second police officer joined the first one in the stop.

Windsor Police Officer Daniel Crocker radioed 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.

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.

According to the lawsuit, when the two officers got out, they immediately drew their guns and pointed them at Nazario as he sat in his SUV. The officers then attempted to pull Nazario out of the vehicle, who 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.

“I don’t even want to reach for my seatbelt, can you please? … My hands are out, can you please — look, this is really messed up,” Nazario stammered, his eyes clenched shut, upon being pepper sprayed.

The officers shouted conflicting orders at Nazario, telling him to put his hands out the window while also telling him to open the door and get out, the lawsuit says. At one point, Gutierrez told Nazario he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning,” a reference to the electric chair.

Nazario got out of the vehicle and again 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 and interrogated him.

The Associated Press reached out to Windsor police for comment, but an email was not returned and their voice mailbox was full.

Crocker and Gutierrez still work for the department, according to the town manager. Windsor is about 70 miles (112 kilometers) southeast of Richmond.