No charges for officer who pepper-sprayed Army lieutenant

Aug 2, 2022, 1:22 PM | Updated: 1:30 pm
FILE - This screen grab from Windsor, Va., Police body camera footage shows Lt. Caron Nazario being...

FILE - This screen grab from Windsor, Va., Police body camera footage shows Lt. Caron Nazario being helped by an EMT after he was pepper-sprayed by Windsor police during a traffic stop in Windsor, Dec. 20, 2020. A special prosecutor in Virginia says a former police officer should not be criminally charged after he pepper-sprayed, struck and handcuffed the Black U.S. Army lieutenant. The traffic stop from December 2020 was captured on video and viewed by millions of people after it became public in April 2021. (Windsor Police via AP, File)

(Windsor Police via AP, File)

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A former police officer in Virginia should not be criminally charged but should be investigated for potential civil rights violations after he pepper-sprayed, struck and handcuffed a Black U.S. Army lieutenant during a 2020 traffic stop, a special prosecutor has determined.

The prosecutor’s findings are the latest fallout from a confrontation involving two police officers and a uniformed military officer that drew outrage and national attention to the small town of Windsor, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southeast of Richmond.

The man who was pulled over, Caron Nazario, was never charged. Video of the December 2020 traffic stop surfaced in April 2021 after Nazario sued in federal court, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated. The images sparked outrage and served as a grim reminder to many Black Americans that a military uniform doesn’t necessarily protect against mistreatment by police.

In December, then-Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office sued the town, alleging that it operated in a way that discriminated against Black Americans.

One of the officers, Joe Gutierrez, was fired from the department. He was the target of the special prosecutor’s criminal probe.

“Although I find the video very disturbing and frankly unsettling, Gutierrez’s use of force to remove Nazario did not violate state law as he had given multiple commands for Nazario to exit the vehicle,” special prosecutor Anton Bell said in his report, dated July 29 and posted online by Nazario’s attorneys.

“The problematic issue, however, were Gutierrez’s statements throughout the entire ordeal, which would lead a reasonable person to wonder whether underlying bias was at the root of how and why Nazario was treated in like manner,” Bell wrote.

Bell’s findings were first reported Monday by The Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

The incident began when Nazario was driving home from his duty station, according to his lawsuit. Officer Daniel Crocker radioed that he was attempting to stop a vehicle with no rear license plate and tinted windows.

Crocker said the driver was “eluding police” and he considered it a “high-risk traffic stop,” according to a report that’s included in the lawsuit. One of Nazario’s attorneys, Jonathan Arthur, later explained that Nazario was trying to stop in a well-lit area “for officer safety and out of respect for the officers.”

The other officer, Gutierrez, was driving by and decided to join the traffic stop, the lawsuit stated. By the time the two officers reached Nazario’s SUV, the license plate was visible in the rear.

When Nazario stopped at a well-lit gas station, the two officers immediately drew their guns and pointed them at Nazario, his lawsuit alleges. The officers then attempted to pull Nazario out of the vehicle while he continued to keep his hands in the air. Gutierrez pepper-sprayed Nazario multiple times as the officers yelled for him to get out.

At one point, Gutierrez told Nazario he was “fixin’ to ride the lightning,” a reference to the electric chair that was also a line from the movie “The Green Mile,” a film about a Black man facing execution, the lawsuit said.

Nazario got out 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 and interrogated him.

The traffic stop was captured on Nazario’s cellphone as well as the officer’s body-worn cameras.

Tom Roberts, another attorney representing Nazario, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that a judge or a jury, not a special prosecutor, should have determined whether Gutierrez violated the law.

“I think that there’s sufficient evidence to show that he was intentional in his actions,” Roberts said. “And I believe that he exceeded any authority to use force, and therefore he committed assault and battery.”

Roberts said that would have been a misdemeanor offense, for which the statute of limitations is one year, well before the special prosecutor released his findings.

“All too often, when it comes to law enforcement violating the laws, we see our Commonwealth’s Attorneys fail to apply the same zeal at prosecuting law enforcement as they do with other offenders,” Roberts’ firm said in a statement.

John Becker Mumford Jr., an attorney listed for Gutierrez in Nazario’s lawsuit, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Bell, the special prosecutor, wrote that he asked the local U.S. Attorney’s Office to review the case for possible civil rights violations. Karoline Foote, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, said Tuesday that the office had no comment.

In February, the town of Windsor asked a court to dismiss the state attorney general’s lawsuit, arguing that it only refers to one person — Nazario — “in a cursory and inconclusive manner.”

Jason Miyares, who defeated Herring in November’s election, took over as Virginia’s AG in January. Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Miyares’ office, said Tuesday that the lawsuit is still pending.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Electoral workers move electronic voting machine boxes at a distribution center in Rio de Janeiro, ...
Associated Press

Brazil holds historic election with Lula against Bolsonaro

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — More than 120 million Brazilians will vote Sunday in a highly polarized election that could determine if the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps the far-right incumbent in office for another four years. With polls opening at 8 a.m. Brasilia time, the […]
21 hours ago
FILE - Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks after touring the IRS New Carrolton Federal Building,...
Associated Press

Allies aim for risky Russian oil price cap as winter nears

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials celebrated in early September when top allies agreed to back an audacious, never-before-tried plan to clamp down on Vladimir Putin’s access to cash as he wages war on Ukraine. The idea sounded simple enough: The countries would pay only cut-rate prices for Russian oil. That would deprive Putin of money […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

Today in History: October 2, Warsaw Uprising is crushed

Today in History Today is Sunday, Oct. 2, the 275th day of 2022. There are 90 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Oct. 2, 1944, German troops crushed the two-month-old Warsaw Uprising, during which a quarter of a million people had been killed. On this date: In 1869, political and spiritual […]
21 hours ago
FILE - This still image from video taken Oct. 4, 2021, and provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows a...
Associated Press

Ruptured oil pipeline off California approved for repairs

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Texas oil company was granted permission to repair an underwater pipeline that ruptured off the coast of Southern California a year ago, spilled tens of thousands of gallons of crude, and forced beaches and fisheries to close. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the approval Friday to Amplify Energy […]
21 hours ago
FILE - This undated file photo posted on Twitter on June 18, 2020, by then Venezuela's Foreign Mini...
Associated Press

Venezuela swaps 7 jailed Americans for Maduro relatives

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rare softening of hostile relations, Venezuela freed on Saturday seven imprisoned Americans in exchange for the United States releasing two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife who had been jailed for years on narcotics convictions. The swap of the Americans, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, follows […]
21 hours ago
CORRECTS FIRST NAME TO PAUL, INSTEAD OF TOM - Members of mediccorps.org, who arrived with two helic...
Associated Press

Pine Island residents recount horror, fear as Ian bore down

PINE ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — Paramedics and volunteers with a group that rescues people after natural disasters went door to door Saturday on Florida’s devastated Pine Island, offering to evacuate residents who spoke of the terror of riding out Hurricane Ian in flooded homes and howling winds. The largest barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, […]
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
No charges for officer who pepper-sprayed Army lieutenant